Just a short stroll from Cooks River, surrounded by sporting ovals, sits Ol’ Mates. The lively little sandwich joint – just over the Marrickville border in Earlwood – is owned by brothers James and Nick Retsas, the lads behind Frank & Chitch, a mainstay in Earlwood proper.

The light-filled space is welcoming, with huge windows surrounding terrazzo benchtops and floors. The Retsas boys both spent time on the tools designing the space then fitting it out themselves. The result is a tidy and sleek suburban spot, helmed by friendly staff in crisp white tees.

When Broadsheet visits it’s pre-lunch on a Tuesday, but the place is already a revolving door of customers chatting to James like he’s an ol’ mate. A lot of the people are clearly regulars – an impressive feat for a cafe that’s barely a month old and in a competitive area.

Never miss a Sydney moment. Make sure you're subscribed to our newsletter today.


“What people need to understand is that with hospitality, people are cracking the code,” Nick tells Broadsheet. “You can get good quality coffee and food. It’s not like back in the day when you had Gloria Jeans, Muffin Break and some ol' mate down the street doing bacon and eggs on Wonder White."

At Ol’ Mates, it’s all about the vibes – and the easy friendliness is refreshing. “Look, it’s just a sandwich shop, but we’re not just doing hi-bye greetings. If you walk through the door and we’re talking about the footy, I’m asking you who you follow – you’re part of it, even if you don’t want to be,” Nick laughs. “That’s the only point of difference I can see now in the game – you’re coming in because you want to support us [as people].”

One regular, Johnny Attieh, has the poached chicken sanga in his hands. “I’ve probably had it 30 times,” he says of the two-hands-needed meal, which is fresh with cos, avocado and pickled red onion. That’s about one a day since opening, by our calculations.

Most Ol’ Mates sandwiches are on schiacciata, a Tuscan flatbread that’s focaccia but a bit thinner and chewier. The guys get their bread from Kirrawee’s Thoroughbread Bakery and their meat from Whole Beast Butchery just down the road. Coffee is by Allpress.

The top hits on the sandwich line-up are hefty classics: the Schnitzel and the Deli. On the latter, sopressa salami and mortadella meet rocket, tomato, provolone, with peppers for heat, while the Schnitzel stars buttermilk-crumbed chook with lettuce, pickles, cheese and house-made Ol’ Mates sauce.

Adding a hash brown or fermented chillies from The Fermentalists is a power play, especially to the fresh-as salad sandwich we tried. “The dip on the sandwich you’re eating is a traditional Greek dip called tirokafteri,” says James. “That’s my partner's recipe, she’s super proud of it.” And she should be: the vibrant house-made mix of feta and roasted capsicum is elite.

The servings at this neighbourhood spot are generous and well-priced. A sandwich and a coffee will set you back a dollar or two either side of a twenty. “We wanted to create a straightforward menu – nothing too fancy – that people could come in for any day of the week,” says James. “Nothing too crazy – just good, honest produce and great taste.”

While Frank & Chitch is a proper all-day brunch spot, the Retsas brothers were keen to go simple. “The cost of living is expensive right now,” Nick says. “To eat at Ol’ Mates is under 20 bucks. But any other sit-down cafe, you’re paying 40 bucks, bro. Why not create a space where you’re able to tick the boxes for everyone?”

Ol’ Mates
2 Homer Street, Earlwood

Tue to Fri 6.30am–3pm
Sat & Sun 7am–3pm
(Kitchen 7am–2.30pm daily)