Cafes support social ventures

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Feast of Merit , Richmond

We are often ahead of the game in Melbourne and eating out for a good cause is no exception. Melbourne is emerging as a social-enterprise cafe hub. These cafes are not just well-intentioned, they are really good too.

It’s not enough that a cafe wears its heart on its sleeve – it’s got to serve delicious coffee and food in a hip setting.


Streat is one of the social enterprises that are setting new standards, training disadvantaged young people, supporting social ventures and contributing to Victoria’s food culture.

“We have to match the cafe next door in terms of service, atmosphere and food quality,” says Streat’s Ian Johnson. “We can’t just run a charity cafe where you come along once, the coffee is dishwater and you don’t come back.”

Streat started with two coffee carts in Federation Square in 2010. Founded by Rebecca Scott and Kate Barrelle, Streat now has five cafes, a catering company and a coffee roasting business. It’s exciting times for the social enterprise, which generates 70 per cent of its income (the rest is from fundraising and philanthropy) and plans to be self sufficient with its next venture.

Streat’s popular Kensington cafe has been refurbished and reopened in mid August. The next step is a $2.5 million complex in Cromwell Manor, Collingwood, where Streat will operate a cafe, bakery, coffee roaster and commercial kitchen. It’s anticipated that the bakery and coffee roaster will be the big earners.

“We have a strong business brain and a really strong social heart,” Ian, Streat’s marketing manager, says.

So far more than 400 young homeless and disadvantaged people have participated in the program and Streat hopes to train 250 a year in the new headquarters.

Feast of Merit , Richmond

Feast of Merit

One of the hippest restaurants in Richmond is Feast of Merit. It’s a beautifully designed rustic space. Chef Ravi Presser has cooked at some top joints (Fonda Mexican, Circa, Cumulus) and the food is more restaurant than cafe style. He likes his vegie dishes and he sources produce from local suppliers.

What makes Feast of Merit different is that its profits fund projects in developing countries across Africa and Asia, and also in Australia. It’s run by YGAP, which was founded by Elliot Costello (son of World Vision’s Tim Costello), Elena Critchley and friends in 2008.

“Gone are the days when charities were charities and businesses were businesses,” founding member Alby Tomassi says.

Since Feast opened, it has served 35,000 people and has raised $100,000 to fund its overseas programs.

Ravi admits that running a cafe is not the easiest way to make money but it helps raise awareness. “The food industry is a very good way to connect and engage people on another level. People always have an appetite; they always have to eat.”

They plan to open a providore next door and Ravi is starting to train young people from St Kilda Youth Services.

Scarf gives young people a start in hospitality


Hannah Colman and Jess Moran take a different approach with Scarf, which they founded in 2010. Scarf’s feel-good dinners are so popular they are often booked out weeks in advance. Scarf partners with restaurants, doing guest sessions once a week, to focus on training young refugees.

The host restaurant cooks the food while Scarf trainees, with some help from mentors, do the rest. The service can vary, but the dinners are fun, the food good and the trainees are keen.

So far Scarf has trained 74 young people and 70 per cent of these are now working. The young people, who are paid, learn about service, beer, coffee and wine. Mentors and sponsors come from top restaurants and businesses.

“The resilience, amazing attitude and commitment from young people is mind-blowing,” Hannah says.

Long Street Coffee

On a smaller scale, hardworking-couple Jane and Francois Marx spent $30,000 of their own money to set up Long Street Coffee in a back street in Richmond at the end of June. They also had $10,000 from an Australian Women’s Weekly grant and some money from crowd funding.

The cafe operates as a standard business and three refugees are employed part-time. After six months of training, they will move on to other jobs and new trainees will come onboard.

Charcoal Lane

A more upmarket venture is Fitzroy’s smart restaurant, Charcoal Lane, where you can eat finely crafted native ingredients, cooked and served by Indigenous hospitality students.

Then there’s trendy Shebeen, a CBD not-for-profit laneway bar, set up by Simon Griffiths and Zanna McComish. It has beers from developing countries and 100 per cent of the profits go to projects back in those countries. In Donkey Wheel House, rustic Kinfolk cafe, headed by Jarrod Briffa, relies heavily on volunteers with profits distributed to partner charities. Despite its ups and downs, the vegetarian “pay as you feel” Lentil as Anything, founded by Shanaka Fernando 15 years ago, now has five cafes.

Helping out

We like to eat out, we like to help and social enterprise cafes offer a chance to do this in a positive, pro-active and fun way. With this crop of competitive top-notch places, maybe we can change the world one bite (or coffee) at a time.

Angelo the barista smiles for the camera

Angelo's story

Streat recruit Angelo, 19, is now as handy with a coffee machine as he is with his guitar after training at Streat’s McKillop Lane cafe.

Angelo (pictured) arrived in Australia in 2006 after spending his childhood in a refugee camp in Kenya.

“I’m really passionate about making coffee,” he says. “I want to open my own cafe one day but I want to start off with small steps. I want to get a job and work my way up.”

Moving to Perth he had to look after his siblings so going to school wasn’t always easy.

“The first year was kind of rough because I didn’t speak English,” he says.

A year ago he came to Melbourne and joined Yarra Youth Centre. He recently completed Streat’s 20-week course, which has given him a valuable set of skills and plugged him into life in Melbourne.

Cafes that lend a hand

Streat Cafe: Five outlets
Feast of Merit: 117 Swan St, Richmond
Long Street Coffee: 45 Little Hoddle St, Richmond
Charcoal Lane: 136 Gertrude St, Fitzroy
Shebeen: 36 Manchester Lane, Melbourne
Kinfolk: 673 Bourke St, Melbourne
Lentil as Anything: Five outlets
Scarf community
ACspresSO: 2 Regent St, Richmond - Manager Luis Rivera says the focus is to bridge the gap in unemployment specifically focusing on the ex-offender demographic. Having been open six months it has directly helped six people obtain full-time work in hospitality.


Tell us of other social enterprise cafes and restaurants at

Written by Mary O'Brien, Photos Meredith O'Shea
December 01, 2015