Before I get onto my first post on this new project for 2014 I probably should clarify some things. Firstly I’m not paid in any way (except perhaps in smiles) to write about these businesses and I’m not reviewing them (even though it may look like I am). You’ll find that everything I write will sound glowing because if you read my previous post about the project, the businesses I choose are ones I love or am inspired by. My goal is to share stories and I figured that if I’m going to spend time on something it may as well benefit others in the process and if you’re inspired as a result then that’s a bonus!
LETS GET STARTED…
There’s no better candidate for my first business than Harvest Espresso because I have a little story as to how I discovered them and it was by accident. At the start of this year I decided I needed to get more exercise. My goal wasn’t to have the physique of a Greek adonis (though my wife would love that) but to improve my overall health so I can be a better husband, father and photographer.
With not much time in a day, I thought I’d kill two birds by taking my daughter Arielle out to the park in the morning (she loves swings) and give my wife some MUCH needed rest (she’s the rock of our house and pretty much does everything!). As an added incentive, I’d grab a latte at the endpoint to enjoy on the way home so in January I ventured out, strolling along Albany Hwy and found Harvest Espresso. It was the perfect distance from my place but to my dismay it was closed for the Christmas holidays! Over the next few weeks I tried pretty much every café along the strip from Harvest to the causeway. Eventually they opened and the coffee was great.
From then on I have been dropping by most mornings they’re open, my daughter in one arm and wallet in the other. I’ve eaten almost everything on the menu and gotten to know Catherine and Roland in the process. They’re quite busy and on the weekend you’ll find often 20-30 people waiting outside for one of 25 seats. One morning I ordered the pork belly and when it arrived I thought…
“Who combines pork belly, squid ink, grapes and poached eggs on a plate for breakfast?”
I have lived in the area for 14 years and prior to Harvest, the only restaurant I noticed trying to do something different was The Silver Spoon and they closed down quite abruptly so I was intrigued to learn more about the story behind their success.
It turns out Catherine was an architect for 8 years and Roland has 18 years’ experience behind the stove at restaurants around Australia and the Middle East. With credentials like that they could both easily have continued long successful individual careers so I asked why they’d give that up to begin a small café in Victoria Park?
Well if you know anyone who works as a chef you definitely don’t pick up a career like that if you want an active weekend social life so having separate careers meant they hardly saw each other. Roland tells me that as you grow and train as a chef, you learn how to do all the basics and you learn how to do them well. You also learn about textures and flavours and what goes well together. It’s similar to photography or any creative skill in that you first learn the craft and its rules and from there, you can start to really create and understand where those rules can be broken. That’s when things get exciting and for Roland he really wanted to stop cooking other people’s food and start creating his own.
I think many of us get to a similar place… we find a business idea we love and the seed is planted but how do you go for it?
For Catherine and Roland, they knew that for it to work out they both needed to be in it together (otherwise they’d still never see each other). They chose Victoria Park because they felt it had a lot of potential as a community and business environment with an interesting diversity of residents and visitors. A lot of small businesses fail so to make the transition and learning curve manageable, they decided to start small and run it themselves. I read reviews and hear many people say:
“Harvest is so small!” or “I had to wait a while for a table”
Well now you know why.
It took a year of planning and searching to find a suitable location, but once the planning was done they both quit their jobs and in November 2012, Harvest Espresso was born.
Catherine takes care of everything front-of-house and Roland looks after the kitchen and menu choices. I asked what they’re trying to achieve and one of the most important things is they wanted to create a café environment where they’d love to go themselves… a place where you can enjoy good food and good coffee that is both casual and family friendly. A lot of this is reflected in the design and fit-out choices Catherine has made.
When you walk in you can see fingerprints of her creativity everywhere and because I go there a lot, I noticed the choices and one of the first things I said to them was “you’ve taken care of all the little details and you do them well”. The colour palette is natural and inviting with plenty of timber from the signage, tables and chairs to the boards your food is served on. You’ll find Australian wildflowers on the tables too which are provided by local florist Matthew Landers. The place is inviting so you don’t need to worry if you bring your kids in and they throw mushrooms and toast all over the floor (not that my daughter has done that).
Good coffee is so important and whilst I’m not a coffee expert, Harvest use 5 Senses coffee beans that are roasted locally in Rockingham and offer an extensive drinks menu that beats many cafes many times larger. How they fit in all the ingredients to create everything on their menu in that small space is beyond me and probably genius on Catherine’s behalf.
So now onto the food… they call it:
“Restaurant dining at café prices”
Usually when I’m handed a menu anywhere, I generally read the left column with glee, salivating at the same time whilst my eyes scan the right column. In my head I have a conversation with myself about whether what’s written on the left (if I can interpret it) is worth the number on the right.
Of course nobody sees the internal dialog and on the outside I make it look like I can afford anything (haha).
At Harvest, you’ll look at the menu and in your head you’ll give yourself a high five. People I bring there always say… “this is great for such reasonable prices”.
Roland loves seeing people enjoy his food and his passion for cooking goes way beyond. He’s a big believer in getting the basics right so he makes sure that the kitchen team follows his exact standards and learns how to do everything properly. This includes correct techniques (like knife handling, butchery, food preparation and cooking) to learning flavours that complement and most important of all, seasonality. That means learning what tastes best at different times of the year.
Ingredients are prepared from scratch so that the team knows what goes into each dish and pastries are baked fresh every morning. In fact Roland said it costs him more to do everything properly rather than take shortcuts (like buying in pre-prepared food) but he said:
“I’d rather make less and see people enjoy the results rather than take the shortcuts”.
I think principles like that are important for customers like us to know.
Catherine and Roland love to be part of people’s lives and seeing their food enjoyed. I asked Roland what he’s trying to achieve with the food and he loves finding new ingredients and pushing the boundaries so on the menu you’ll see staple breakfast items like full breakfasts, perfect poached eggs, silky scrambled eggs and fluffy omelettes as well as the seasonal specials which are in his words…“breakfast and lunch with a difference”. To keep those boundaries well pushed, you’ll find that once you miss the seasonal items, there’s little or no chance of getting to try those dishes again (like the pork belly from the Autumn menu and the food from my photos) so jump on it!
Finally I asked… what can we expect in the future and all I’m told is:
“Perhaps I’ll bring the classics back but with a twist…”
So that’s their story and hopefully it gives you more to think about next time you walk through the doors. Sometimes it’s really busy and you do have to wait a while for a table but behind the counter and in the back are two lovely people who are passionate about what they do and dared to follow their dreams.
I think it’s awesome that by taking the risks, they’ve managed to create an experience for all of us to enjoy.
Now onto my images… hopefully they give a real richness to what I’ve written.
If you follow Harvest on Instagram (@harvest_espresso) and see images on social media or food blogs, most of the time you’re seeing images of food beautifully presented on a plate but I want to show you more than that… I want to try and allow you to experience Harvest like when I walk in each morning… to see the bustle of customers, enjoy the food as well as wave at Roland in the kitchen.
This is how I feel a cafe should be photographed so enjoy!
If you want to visit Harvest Espresso, here are their details. Be sure to check out their new website to see what’s on the current seasonal menu!
629 Albany Hwy, Victoria Park WA.
(08) 9355 5884
Open Tuesday to Sunday 7am – 4pm