When life gets stressful and you live in a big, bustling city, it can be hard to cut through the noise and forge personal connections when you're one in a million — and not in a good way.
We get the feeling this is why our love of cafes is as consistent as death and taxes. Cafes, replete with friendly faces and coffee, function as calm oases in a busy city. The warm, fuzzy feeling that comes from reaching 'regular' status at your local, where they not only know your name but your order, is also why everything No. 19 cafe owners Domenic and Diana Caruso touch turns to gold. A little kindness can take you quite far.
With two thriving venues under their collective belt, there's not much they can't achieve. We've teamed up with Squarespace to chat with these forward-thinking design gurus about how much effort actually goes into that minimalist look and homely cafe feel we love and crave.
PUT YOURSELF FIRST
It might sound counter-intuitive for a fledgling business to be built for selfish means, but hear us out. If you design a space that you'd like to inhabit, the chances are people like you will like it too. While that sounds like pretty obvious advice, it's also something that gets easily overlooked.
For Domenic and Diana, those needs were simple. "We had a young family and just wanted to have somewhere nice to eat that could cater for children," says Domenic. "Ultimately, [we needed] something that was cool, homely and had killer food and coffee." For the young family, this was the ethos that started it all, the desire to create their own urban oasis where their kids could play. And from that seed grew St Rose in Essendon.
"Our business started as a dream, as corny as that sounds. We always believed that someday we would open an establishment that best suited us".
See? Business doesn't really have to be that complicated.
KINDNESS (AND COFFEE) GOES A LONG WAY
"[In hospitality] kindness and coffee go along way," Domenic observed. In 2013, they put that theory to the test and opened St Rose in Essendon, a suburb that, at the time, suffered from a serious lack of specialty coffee.
Armed with only kindness and coffee (and an excellent design team at Viola Architects), St Rose took Essendon by storm and marked the beginning of the suburb's cafe boom.
"The concept was simple but it had intention," says Dominic — which is a perfect summary of the St Rose vibe: simple and purposeful.
St Rose very much positions itself as an elusive urban oasis. White internal brick walls lit up by soft lighting create a calm atmosphere while rich hardwood furniture and lush greenery warm it right up. But at the end of the day, it was the warmth of the team that became the cafe's strongest point of difference.
"[St Rose] was the beginning of a very strong team that has become part of our family," Domenic says.
BE BRAVE AND BE SMART
Opening a cafe can be likened to having a child: it's difficult, tiring, challenging but ultimately, incredibly rewarding. With St Rose passed its terrible twos, and their own family chugging along, the Carusos decided to do it all over again. And this time, they took a risk.
"When we knew we were confident enough in the team at St Rose in Essendon, we were ready to create another milestone and open up the second venture," Domenic says. "No. 19 was always a concept we had on the back burner. It ultimately felt like it was time to have another baby…we were ready to learn, grow and conquer."
This time, instead of designing for themselves, they started No. 19 with a different (slightly more abstract) inspiration: concrete. "We were fascinated with the idea that something so raw could look so refined when paired with the correct hues and textures," Domenic says.
They would soon discover that a huge amount of thought and planning goes into the perfect minimalistic aesthetic, from perfectly match concretes to choosing the perfect Squarespace template and getting their name out there with a slick website. For the Carusos, chasing that aesthetic was a calculated risk. "[When we started the designs] there weren't a lot of cafes that looked anything like this…a minimal concrete playground of food and coffee," says Domenic. (Sounds perfect to us…)
With the help of Biasol Design Studio, they found their premises in Ascot Vale, built out the concept of No. 19, and opened the doors just over a year ago.
FOOD AND COFFEE IS STILL KING
The outcome is stunning. No. 19 is an Instagram darling, a pageant girl of the cafe scene, with a minimal but somehow warm and eye-catching interior schematic. "There was a lot of detail [that went into] No. 19, but we knew ultimately it was going to be all about the simple elements that would give a minimalistic raw charm," Domenic says.
They did what they set out to do — create a new addition to the family that managed to have its own unique flavour. At the end of the day, though, the food and coffee needed to be on point and maintain the standard set by St Rose — this is hospitality, after all. And while aesthetics are important, food and coffee is still king.
Diana bore the responsibility for working with their chefs to create an exciting but simple menu. "We chose what we believe is the most fitting for the cafe and true to our motto: simple done extremely well. We try to please a wide range of people from vegan to meat lovers," she says.
So, what shouldn't you miss when you pay a visit? "I love the vegan rainbow bowl. It's like eating a bowl of goodness and it tastes so darn good. And the peanut butter pancake sandwich, I can only describe as f****** yum!" Domenic says.
Diana says, "The business is still a baby to us. We just celebrated one year…and we've a lot more exciting new things to introduce."
Keep an eye on their flourishing little enterprise as they go from strength to strength (hint: the next big addition is a cocktail menu). Keep tabs via their (equally minimalist and aesthetically pleasing) Squarespace site.
Looking to start your own business? Whether it's a creative project or new culinary venture, you'll need to let people know about it. That's where Squarespace comes in. Kickstart your new biz with a website, and use the code CP for 10% off your first Squarespace purchase.