Things have really come full circle for Theo Krambias. After 15 years, he's back at the site where he once ran Alfio's Caffe. Only this time, it's called CH James, in honour of Charles Henry James, a philanthropist who was active in the area circa 1880.
"He was a champion of the northern suburbs, he was all about creating community and bringing people together," Krambias says. He grew up in Northcote and wants the cafe to fulfil a similar role, hence leaving behind Zargatt and Foundation Cafe, his two CBD businesses.
It's a good space for remembering James, who brought the first horse-drawn tram to Australia, installing it on Station Street, and frequently offered locals interest-free loans to help them buy land.
The cafe itself is wedged against a red-brick church, and the thin strip of land between them spills directly onto the footpath. It makes for a welcoming courtyard, especially in light of the edible garden spread across so many planter boxes.
Inside, the walls are decorated with old-timey cart wheels and farming implements, nodding to the area's agricultural history. Chef Franck Verschaeve (ex-Pope Joan) surveys the assembled patrons from an elevated kitchen.
His menu is short and sweet, and includes the requisite hangover cure – a huge bacon, egg, potato, chickpea and chorizo dish called Only If You're Hungry.
Lunch (from 11am) is substantial too, by way of chicken wings, gnocchi, and pork sausages.
Coffee is by Small Batch, with barista Yuta Tanaka (ex-Auction Rooms) working the machine most mornings.
86 Station Street, Fairfield
(03) 9486 3484
Mon to Sun: 7am‒5pm