Porch & Parlour, on Ramsgate Avenue in North Bondi, must hold some sort of romantic sway. Beyond its innovative dishes, A-grade coffee and in-house crafts, the seaside, salty staple of the area has even been known to cause people to move to Sydney. Kind of.
But talk to co-owner Sam Smith, who runs the business with his partner Sarah Hendricks Smith, and he’ll tell you there was never any grand plan to become an icon of Australia’s most famous seaside suburb.
A chef and musician from Perth, Smith says upon arriving in Bondi in 2010 he immediately fell in with a group of WA expats. Lounging with fellow musicians and artists at a local share house just “down the road,” Smith and his mates used to “sit on the balcony… which we called ‘the porch’,” and joke about how good it would be to own their own cafe. So soon enough, they gave it a go. And they called it – of course – The Porch.
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“We opened a shop next door to the cafe originally which sold clothes and surfboards and all sorts of stuff,” says Smith. “That was The Parlour – hence the name Porch & Parlour.”
Porch & Parlour became not just a hangout for likeminded locals, but a hybrid venue that essentially extended the ethos of the share house: “good food and coffee with art, music and people”.
Coffee, food and friendships
If you follow the actor Will Smith on Instagram (no relation to Sam), you might be familiar with Porch & Parlour’s coffee partner Will & Co or the cafe’s signature pea pancake. They’re a couple of stars on a menu that reflects the changes in Bondi’s demographics over the past decade. Forget beans and bacon – these days you’re more likely to sit down for a green bowl or a turmeric omelette with jalapeno and goat’s cheese.
“My food’s evolved a lot,” Smith says. “It does have the same ethos as before, but as Bondi’s evolved we’ve had to evolve with it … You never would’ve seen this many people working out on the beach or on the grass in front of the cafe.”
As always, that change is reflected in the coffee people request. In 2021, espresso is no longer everything.
“Pour-overs, cold brews and filters have really come into fashion, which is a good thing from our perspective,” Smith says.
As well as staying attuned to their client’s evolving tastes, Porch & Parlour has cultivated a relationship with coffee supplier Will & Co across its 10-year journey to help navigate the evolving landscape. It’s these sorts of ongoing relationships that are at the heart of what Smith is trying to achieve.
“You want to know who you’re giving your money to, and they look after you in return,” he says. “There’s a lot of respect between us and our suppliers.”
A suburb where the only constant is change
A touch sleepier in the early 2010s, Bondi was a perfect setting for the type of atmosphere Porch & Parlour created.
“Back then there didn’t seem to be as much competition in Bondi,” says Smith. “There was definitely nowhere that really provided that kind of community space where people could get together and bounce ideas off each other.”
Change, though, was inevitable – particularly in endlessly growing Sydney.
“But we’ve always been like a meeting place for creatives and locals, and that definitely hasn’t changed,” Smith says. “People do say that we’re a bit of an institution in Bondi now, whether we like it or not … The people that first came to us in the first few days we were open are still with us now and still friends.”
The steady changes in Bondi are reflected in Porch & Parlour’s own evolution. From moving down the road in 2012 to being devastated by fire in 2018, there’s been little time to rest.
“The brand is so strong, and it clicked to me probably three or four years ago that it’s more than a cafe,” Smith says. “Porch & Parlour almost lends itself better to being a lifestyle brand.”
Recently, Porch & Parlour introduced its own line of ceramics. It will soon also be selling beach throws, books and a series of other eco friendly products through its website.
All this from a humble little cafe that could. But then evolution comes naturally when your business is at the centre of an inspirational beachside community that draws folks from all walks of life. You sling coffee at the crack of dawn, you make contacts, you share ideas – and you inspire others to do the same.
This story is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Will & Co.