Interview with the team from The Workshop Cafe Ballarat

Introducing Sam, Zoe and Meg from The Workshop Cafe, located in the Flecknoe building, Ballarat Central. A place to meet for ideas, collaboration and a great feed.

Sam:  Hi.

Belinda:  Hi [laughs]. So what we’re going to do is, it’s just a very light casual conversation.  So, first of all, please tell me your name, the business name and your position in the business.

Sam:  Do you want to do the workshop and I’ll do pickles, we can do it that way?

Belinda: So, your name?

Zoe:  Zoe Cleverdon and we have the workshop cafe

Belinda:  And your position.

Zoe:  And my position? Managing Director [laughs]

Sam: Co-owner, Managing Director.

Zoe:  One of the Managing Directors.

Sam:  I’m Sam Brown and I’m also co-owner Managing Director of the Workshop Cafe and Pickles Bar, which is Zoe’s too.

Zoe: Yeah.

Belinda: So how long have you been in business?

Sam: I think we’re about to hit two years together.

Zoe: Yeah, almost two years, in September. Pickles is two years, the Workshop is almost one year.

Sam: Well it’s kind of four years. So there was Pickles one, which was at the Archibald, Pickles two, was at SMB, Campus, which is two years ago and we’ve been doing the catering arm of it for two years, I guess you’d say, yeah.

Belinda: So where can people find you? What time do you open?  Can you explain to people exactly where you’re located?

Zoe:  So we’re, at 124 Albert Street, Ballarat Central, in the Flecknoe building and we’re open between 7 am and 4 pm.

Sam:  Just a short walk from Ballarat CBD in an exciting new development by Federation University called the Flecknoe building co-located with Runway, business incubator co-working space, fab lab thing.

Belinda:  So tell me about your business, what you have on offer for people reading this. What do they find when they come here?

Sam:  I guess at the Workshop cafe we have comfortable, homey kind of generous lunch options, grab and go style food, delicious coffee, local ingredients, kind of ethical food, you know everything you buy is probably in a bio-degradable packet, yummy kobutchers, lots of nice retail products and at Pickles, bar, when it’s open, we have local booze, no food, just booze, it depends on the events that we’re doing.  We tailor ourselves to different locations, event’s, themes, festivals.

Belinda:  So tell me a bit more about Pickles then, so what is Pickles?

Zoe:  It’s a shipping container, that we’ve turned into a bar and we take it on the road, basically, and do all kinds of different gigs, whether it be weddings or football events or, what else have we done? Music, live music gigs.

Sam:  Completely random, space activation and I’ll guess more than that, it’s like, it’s an events kind of  company, so sometimes we use that container but other times we just pop in and use different equipment and ideas and stuff that we’ve got, it’s not always the container, it’s what I’m trying to say

Zoe:  Shipping container/bar.

Sam: It’s an events activation conglomerate group, like an event’s group.

Belinda:  Pickles was recently at the Red Series?

Sam:  Yeah.  We catered the Red Series and we did meatballs, coffee, polenta chips.

Belinda:  What is the weirdest request that you’ve been asked for food?

Sam:  Bacon ice cream.

Belinda:   Sorry?

Zoe: Yeah, we do bacon ice cream.

Belinda:  Bacon ice cream?

Zoe:  Yeah.

Sam:  And it was a hit

Zoe:  Bacon maple ice cream.

Sam:  Yeah, we got him the thumbs up on Power FM but it was like thumbs down if you missed out on the bacon ice cream.

Zoe: That was fun that was a really good day.

Belinda: Superhero’s have superpowers, what is your power or your specialty?

Sam:  We can pickle anything.

Zoe: [laughing] True, what have we pickled?

Sam: What’s our superpower? I think it’s, if you walk into one of our venue’s having a shit day it’s going to get better.

Zoe:  Yeah.

Belinda:  I can say I probably haven’t heard you [Sam] laugh as much or as loud, but I do hear the two girls. Now we probably should mention the other person that is also in the business, who is currently doing bookwork on the next table?  So what’s Meg’s role?

Sam:  Ah she’s just the glue that holds us together.
I think our mission statement is two thirds frantic and one third together, or something like that.

Zoe:  Yeah, well Meg’s a chef by trade, so she develops the catering cooking and the has this incredible organisational skills that keep us alive.  That’s what she’s doing right now.

Belinda:  So let me go back to this superpower scenario, Zoe, what’s Sam’s power?

Zoe: He’s so good at making everybody laugh, yeah you’re funny and can spin shit.

Sam: I can totally spin shit.

Zoe: Networking I think maybe is a nice way of putting it.

Sam:  Thanks, social butterfly.

Zoe:  Yeah.

Belinda: and Sam, what about Zoe?

Sam:  Zoe’s just the warmest person in the world, if I’m the mouth, Meg’s the brain you’re definitely the heart and soul.

Zoe:  Ah

Sam:  Yeah the face and the personality

Belinda:  So what about Meg?

Sam:  The brain. I think Zoe and I operate in the clouds a little bit, Megs got the ability to take it, put it in a box and kind of present on a counter, you know what I mean.

Zoe:  Yeah.

Sam:  Literally and metaphorically as well, like literally we can have some weird stupid idea about food or something and Meg can make it into a reality and cost it and do all those difficult things, and also, when were dreaming, we can pitch to her and we go ‘we want to go to Mars’ and Meg’s got the capacity to go ‘You are being fucking ridiculous’, you know, is that alright Meg?

Belinda:  So when you were establishing the workshop, what was the idea behind the culture that you have developed here?

Sam:  I think we aligned a lot with Runway at the start, that’s why we were called the workshop and kind of had this dream. Like on the walls we got all the pattern drawings, it’s about innovation and collaboration and all those kind of hot terms and how we could apply that to a Cafe, like we want to be innovative about the way we think about food, that and the environmental and social aspect, like everything we do we put that filter on and think about the way that we pay wages between men and women, or we carbon offset, we’ve always thought very carefully about doing the right thing.  The Holistic way to our business.

Zoe: Like a place where people can workshop their ideas, I suppose, whether that’s just providing a beautiful coffee and a nice atmosphere to have a meeting or work on their uni projects or whatever that is, it’s an atmosphere of collaboration and working together, I guess, which is kind of where Runway fits into that too.

Belinda: One of the things that I found when I came to work out of Runway was, I didn’t realise how young you guys are, and the success that you have already got in your four years and no doubt many more years to come, so you don’t have to tell us your exact age, but what age bracket are we speaking?

Sam:  I’m 26.

Zoe:  I’m 33.

Sam:  How old are you?  Meg’s 25.

Zoe:  I’ve had two other businesses myself before this one, and it’s not until this one that I really felt relaxed.

Sam:  It clicked

Zoe:  Okay, I can do this. [Laugh] and do it well

Sam:  I feel like I’ve had 5000 and different partnerships as well, and this is the same kind of aha click. I learnt a lot of stuff and had a lot of expensive mistakes in the past, and I definitely learnt some lessons, yeah this feels like it was really big and momentous to get to the trio that, but it’s kind of easy at the same time.

Belinda:  I think you guys are inspirational for a lot younger people going into business.
I work in the office next door and I’ve never hear yelling, screaming, there is always laughter coming through the windows.

Sam: We certainly do it a bit differently I think, in our humble beginnings we spent a lot of hours at Mitchel Harris over a lot of bottles of wine talking about how we would function as a trio, and at the start we weren’t really afraid to say we are going to fight with each other, we going to disagree and all of that, which we definitely have, and I think the most important thing, first and foremost, we trust each other a lot, there’s that idea that if your friends and you’re in business it’s a really shit idea, but I think we all agree  you almost have to be friends first, yeah it’s about building a culture of trust.  It’s really hard, you work a lot it’s really straining on your mental health and your physical health.

Sam: We don’t have an in-depth business plan, as what a lot of people say that we should, but I think we’ve put more consideration in than what we necessarily would if we wrote that business plan, we’ve had to be knowy and opportunistic, we didn’t have a lot of capital or money, so we’ve had to kind of create opportunities for ourselves.

Belinda:  At the same time you guys really work God damn hard.

Sam: Thank you, yeah.

Belinda:  It may not be what everyone sees when you’re physically open, it’s doing all that behind the scenes stuff and the prep on the weekend, where on weekends you could be chilling and relaxing, but you’re in here cooking, cleaning and sorting all that sort of stuff out

Zoe:  Yeah.

Belinda: So what is the strangest food you’ve ever eaten? And where did you eat it

Zoe:  You’ll win that one.

Sam:  Ah, recent ones, there was crickets, that was whacky, crickets, a market in Thailand, I nearly ate a mystery meat taco in Tijuana, raw jellyfish, that was the most disgusting thing I’ve eaten, that was gross, chicken blood soup, that was in Thailand recently, just after the crickets and it was a bad week, I paid for it.

Belinda:  Cause of the blood or the crickets? Or just a combination?

Sam: The blood, I think, threw me off a little bit, there’s this pork blood soup that I like hunted everywhere for and I nearly bought it in one place, and I made the decision not, cause it actually looks pretty gross there, and then I spoke to this woman, that gave us a cooking lesson in Thailand and she said that there was a big problem with the pork at that time and there were lots of people dying or something, so I was really lucky that I didn’t

Zoe:  Wasn’t it cooked though?

Sam:  It’s raw, no, it’s like a, it’s not a soup, they just mix rice with the blood, they call it soup, it’s gross.

Belinda:  So you’re the risk-taker out of the trio.

Zoe:  Yeah definitely.

Belinda:  Tell us about a meal your Mum made, when you were younger, that you now make or you actually miss.

Sam: Ah my Mum made these beautiful pasties, my Mum’s not around anymore, Meg’s sausage rolls kind of reminds me of it, it’s real homey. I don’t know what was in them and I’d like to do some experimenting to figure out exactly the recipe.

Belinda: So you could plan for something, maybe in May to do a Mothers Board and it’s all contributing..

Sam:  To Mum’s passing, yeah, that was the best thing in the world.

Belinda:  You’ve got a couple of months up your sleeves

Zoe:  My Mum was a terrible cook, until she learnt how to make lasagna, so that’s my one like, kind of makes me think of my Mum, cause it’s like her greatest culinary achievement and she can make a really good lasagna, not much else.

Sam:  I reckon one of Mego’s Mum’s recipes is on the menu, the brownies.

Zoe:  Yeah.

Belinda:  What makes you laugh out loud? Besides each other.

Sam:  Ah that was my answer.

Belinda:  Sorry, what’s another thing? Like people falling over, over something?

Sam:  Meg sneezing.

Belinda:  How does that sound?

Sam: Kind of like you’ve stepped on a mouse.

Zoe:  No, she’s a scream sneezer. I don’t know, stupid shit, I laugh at myself a lot.

Sam: Yeah, kind of, I think the general operating of our business makes me laugh a lot, I kind of laugh all the time.

Zoe: Some of the shit I come out with or any of us come out with to our customers, it’s just sometimes a little bit maybe too personal, too much information.

Sam:  Yeah, cross the line, whenever possible, I think.

Zoe:  Yeah, inappropriateness makes me laugh, innuendo makes me laugh.

Sam:  Yeah, there’s a bit of innuendo, yeah?

Zoe: Yeah.

Belinda:  So anything that you wish to finish on?  What else would you like to tell me?  Anything’s that’s coming up? Ah what about your shared plate board?

Sam: Yeah, with the Ballarat homelessness Committee, they’ve encouraged I think 10 cafe’s around Ballarat, we doing this pay it forward thing, where people have the opportunity come and buy someone who really needs a meal and then we stick it on his board with a little post it note and the idea of that is we remove a bit of the stigma, so a person who needs that meal can come and grab the piece of paper and present it at the counter, we won’t ask any questions about what their situation is, we’ll just make him the food.

Belinda:  So you are open what days?

Sam: Monday to Friday.

Belinda:  So you encourage people to come in here, and if I’m already buying a lunch, I can buy two lunches and put it on a postit note and stick it on the Board.

Sam:  Correct.

Belinda:  That’s a really good idea.

Zoe: Yeah.

Belinda:  Awesome, thank you so much for your time.

Sam:  Thank you.

Zoe: Thank you.