Walk into Brother Alec and chances are high the smiling staff behind the counter will be Malia Sloman and Jess Moussi. The two friends and co-owners have been there since 2011, creating a cafe that, along with another top-of-High-Street stalwart, Umberto, set the tone and template for Thornbury’s transformative hospitality scene. Having set that tone, they’ve quietly maintained it.
The duo gave their single shopfront cafe a refurb in 2017. Apart from the welcome addition of a courtyard, the renovation made good on their aim to, in Sloman’s words, “look different but feel the same”. It’s there in the artwork by customers’ kids on the counter wall, and it’s there in the cheerful accommodation of any dietary requirement or request – if a customer can describe it, the kitchen will do its best to produce it.
Despite the subtle renovation, Brother Alec doesn’t stand out for its looks, but for the many interactions that remind customers (and staff too, by all appearances) that at the heart of every good hospitality business is the simple idea of being hospitable.
That’s not to say the food takes a back seat. The owners’ respective backgrounds are North American and Lebanese, and the changing menu reflects this. Turn up on a winter morning and you might find Mexican creamed corn with corn chip salt on sourdough, or a coconut polenta porridge with hazelnuts and an array of house-baked and stewed fruits. Permanent favourites include French toast and huevos rancheros. Brother Alec also sells a range of house-made take-home meals, preserves and sauces.
Moussi changes filter and batch brews often while keeping the espresso options at a consistently excellent standard, thanks in part to the cafe’s close relationship with Richmond’s Syndicate Coffee.