Wilson Coffee is a cafe created by architects. More specifically, it’s the work of MHN Design Union (MHNDU), and it occupies the high-ceilinged garage belonging to MHNDU’s two-storey studio on Richards Lane.
In the late-19th century the building was a steam laundry, and as a reference to its origins, a series of linen sheets have been draped over a line to act as a “wall” to separate the cafe from the rest of the space. It’s just one of many recycled elements that went into Wilson’s design. In fact, there’s not a single new object in sight.
“As architects opening a cafe, we knew we needed to make it look super cool,” Tanya Awadallah, MHNDU’s practice manager and cafe manager, told Broadsheet. “We worked with our friends at the Architecture Factory, who made us the benches, shelves and menu boards from offcuts and bits and pieces. They also gave us an old light and an old fan.”
The simple interior creates a friendly, cosy feel. Plus, it draws attention to more important things, such as the building’s stunning architecture, the leafy views of Shannon Reserve – and the coffee. In case you’re wondering, the architects aren’t responsible for the latter.
When Awadallah needed a barista, she asked Joaquin Herrera Nino, who ran Cafe Con Leche in Surry Hills for eight years. “Our practice used to be on Hutchinson Street,” says Awadallah, “so Joaquin was my go-to barista. Now I have him back.”
At Wilson, Nino uses Blend 7 Sanchez by Rozelle-based roaster Little Marionette as the house coffee. There’s also a selection of cold-pressed juices made by a Sydney-based company Botanica Juices.
The food menu is equally simple. It sells salads made by Australian social enterprise Two Good, (for every salad bought, one is donated to a woman living in a refuge in Sydney or Melbourne), as well as pastries by Salt Meats Cheese (which also donated a fridge). And our pick: the tahini toast, which will set you back an easy five bucks. One customer describes it as “life-changing”. You’re welcome to sit in the cafe or grab your goodies and picnic in the park.
Wilson Coffee donates 100 per cent of its profits to a different charity every few months. When it launched in November last year, all proceeds went to Oxfam. Since early January, in light of the bushfire crisis, all proceeds have gone to the Australian Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery. The cafe has also been collecting donations for the RFS.
On top of supporting various charities, Wilson Coffee intends to help local artists. The airy space behind the cafe will be transformed into a gallery where artists can exhibit and sell their work without paying any commissions. Plans are also underway to host a series of talks with a focus on doing good.
Wilson Coffee is a pop-up for now, but the team is hoping to make it permanent sometime this year.
35 Richards Lane, Surry Hills
Mon to Fri 7.30am–1pm Sat 7.30am–1pm on market days, first Sat of the month