The latest café to open in Melbourne’s culturally diverse suburb of Footscray is inspired by more than just good food and coffee.
Made of shipping containers with a large outdoor area, sprawling herb garden and 20,000-litre water tank, Rudimentary is just as much about creating a sustainable community space.
Three Australians in their late 20s and early 30s, Desmond Huynh, Lieu Trieu and Michael Ngo, are behind the new business, which opened about a month ago.
The idea for Rudimentary was conceived about 18 months ago when Huynh’s father offered him the block of land on the corner of Donald and Leeds Streets.
Huynh and partner Trieu initially thought the idea was silly because the land, which had been in the Huynh family for more than 15 years, was full of rubbish, overgrown weeds and was used as free parking for a few local businesses.
But after observing activity around the site and thinking more deeply about the impact of the many new residential developments in Footscray, the couple quickly saw needs they believed they could meet.
First, a communal space to complement the growing residential environment, and second, a high-quality food and coffee experience for the western suburbs.
As connoisseurs of Melbourne’s famous coffee culture, Huynh and Trieu had found themselves often leaving the western suburbs and wanted to start something that brought everything they enjoyed to their side of town.
“We really wanted to have a space where we could enrich the area,” Huynh told The Fifth Estate.
“The temptation, especially for my Dad, would be to either sell the block to a developer or develop it himself as is happening in the rest of Footscray at the moment.”
On the day The Fifth Estate visited Rudimentary, a house across the street sold for $847,000. Huynh says the same house would have barely reached $600,000 five years ago.
Aware of the rarity of their opportunity on such valuable land, they thought hard about what they wanted to achieve and considered the long term.
“We understand that it is prime Footscray real estate and that we have a finite life on this block and hence the reason why we chose to design it as we have, using shipping containers,” Huynh says.
“We were looking at modular design and buildings that we could relocate.
“We thought that if we built a really good business, we didn’t want to just knock it down and be done with it.
“I come from an architectural background. You’re educated in sustainability and ‘cradle to the grave’.”
Rudimentary’s outdoor area includes an astro turf lawn, umbrellas, tables, chairs, a bike rack and garden beds.
The garden is tailored the menu, which is shaped by seasonality and locally sourced produce.
Head chef, Shane, takes seasonality seriously.
“We had avocado and it’s just started to go really bad and he took it off [the menu] and we said, ‘But everyone likes avocado,’ but he said it was tasting really bad and it wasn’t in season,” Huynh says.
Huynh says not having avocado might annoy some, but he doesn’t care.
The kitchen is limited to one corner of a shipping container, so the menu takes a simple approach, much like the layout of the entire café.
That’s how they settled on the business name.
“We went with ‘Rudimentary’ because it was the guiding principle behind the design and the approach to the business,” Huynh says.
Huynh says he would consider introducing solar power in the future to increase the site’s sustainability.
Despite the initial nudge from his father, Huynh says his vision for the café is not quite what his Vietnamese family had in mind.
“They always said, ‘You should serve Vietnamese food and coffee; that’s not how you do it,’” he says.
But his family have changed their tune as they’ve seen the café’s popularity grow.
“My dad is always surprised,” Huynh says.
“He usually just stands really awkwardly somewhere and just goes, ‘Oh yeah, very interesting, very good, very good.’
“Our biggest champions of the project are our parents now, maybe not at the beginning but now they frequent this place, they sit down and they drink coffee. They get it now.”