Though you wouldn’t describe Hootan Heyderi and Jono Hill’s attitude to the cafe business as detached, there is a particular relaxedness about their way . “We worked out the food for A Minor Place three days before we opened,” recalls Jono of their Brunswick haunt’s early days with a chuckle. “So we had to work out what the menu was and then buy everything we thought we needed to make it and then we had to make it.”
“So this time,” jokes Hootan, “we’re going to leave it until one day before we open, because we’re a little bit more experienced now.”
He’s referring to the duo’s latest cafe venture, Wide Open Road, which is set to open in Barkly Street, Brunswick, in the first week of March, almost six years since the two converted a ramshackle weatherboard corner store on a stretch of Albion Street otherwise free of commercial premises into one of Brunswick’s defining daytime eateries.
Since opening A Minor Place’s doors in 2004, the duo have watched their humble cafe grow into something of a northern institution. Once regarded as “too far out”, their Albion Street operation not only gave Brunswick’s northern fringe a place to eat but served as a catalyst for a new generation of cafes on Brunswick’s outer fringes. Where centralised haunts like Ray’s and Small Block once monopolised the suburb’s coffee traffic, A Minor Place helped make the idea of opening on an otherwise quiet stretch a genuine proposition, with establishments as diverse as El Mirage and Piano Piano, and more recent additions like New Day Rising, Milkwood and Pope Joan, following suit.
That’s not to suggest it was planned in that way. “When we were opening A Minor Place, we went in to see Ray and he was like ‘Oh, it’ll be good for Brunswick.’ I’d never really thought about it like that,” says Jono. “It was just something that we wanted to do.
“When Hoots and I started it, it was just me and him feeding the locals coffee and then when the first weekend rolled around, it was just like ‘uh-oh’,” he laughs. “It’s not until you see a community gather around a place that you realise you’ve helped create something.”
While it’s hard not to feel that Wide Open Road arrives with a tad more preparation in tow, wandering about the compact space – set in the front pocket of an otherwise expansive 1950s warehouse near Sydney Road – you can see there are some clear threads linking the operation to its predecessor. As with her work on A Minor Place, architect Nikki Adams has created a balance of shared and more intimate spaces and has introduced sleeker lines, design sensibilities and materials to counter the rawness of the building’s shell. The fit out – which was coordinated by Provan Built, known for their work on Josie Bones in Collingwood – features a large hardwood communal bench offsets a scattering of small tables and chairs, and a curved ply ceiling and a wall of terrazzo tiles interact with the original brickwork.
“The buildings themselves kind of talk to us as to how things are going to turn out aesthetically,” says Jono. “A Minor Place was this old, ramshackle, corner store and house and the whole aesthetic and feel came out of that, whereas this warehouse was built in the 50s so we kind of continued that 50s aesthetic.”
Serving a selection of “quick, simple and tasty” fresh sandwiches, rolls and pastries, the cafe’s output will be characteristically unassuming. That said, like A Minor Place – which, over time, extended into different rooms of the shopfront’s former dwelling – Wide Open Road is primed for expansion, with modular sections of the warehouse marked for further seating and a larger, commercial kitchen. Indeed, the cafe is a mere strand in the building’s happy tangle of other functions. While artist studios compete for space behind the cafe, the building’s top floor is home to creative studio Bird and Hill’s film production company Yeah Right Productions.
Perhaps most exciting for admirers of the duo’s coffee-making skills is Wide Open Road’s coffee roasting operations, which occupy a space between studios at the rear of the building and have already produced a house blend by the name of Bathysphere.
As Hootan explains, it represents a honing of their operations. “Roasting was not so much about what we wanted to do differently, but what we wanted to do well,” he says. “It was the next obvious step for us; we’d been wanting to do it and we love coffee and so thought that now was the time.
“There’s this whole ‘Third Wave’ that everyone talks about and the reality is that it is out there. People are getting to know their coffee more and there’s this level of appreciation coming up – that we want to be part of – where it’s almost like wine, where people go out and actually recognise the different coffees that are out there and recognise what country and what region they’re from. As much as that’s already out there, it’s still kind of new level, and that’s exciting.”
Jono shares his sentiments. “The cafe is part of something bigger in this building and I hope that this building becomes a bit of a landmark for stuff,” he says. “That upstairs, there’s good work being made and that there’s a cafe out front and that we’re roasting coffee out the back.”
That said, they aren’t about to get ahead of themselves. At the end of the day, good coffee is good coffee, and a good cafe is a good cafe.
“We’ve had plenty of chefs and people come through A Minor Place and have all these ideas about stuff,” says Jono. “But in the end, if it doesn’t want to make us travel up there to eat it, then we don’t put it on."
"That’s the only thing I feel like we’ve got to guide us,” he pauses, Heyderi finishing his sentence for him: “Our tummies.”
Wide Open Road
274 Barkly Street, Brunswick
This was our cover story for the autumn print issue of Broadsheet.