BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA—Julia’s Pantry in the heart of Brisbane’s suburb of Kenmore looks like an inviting storybook kitchen. With its upcycled furnishings and old country charm, it’s a place that can easily become a favourite hang out to pull up a chair and chat.
And that’s precisely the ambience owner, Julia Matusik set out to achieve. Her faithful patrons clearly enjoy the vibe too. It’s only 8.30am and already there is a steady stream of customers ordering coffees and breakfasts while escaping into the café’s cozy confines on this chilly August morning.
A former town planner by trade “I was a far better cook”, Julia opened the café four years ago with creative input from her husband, (he’s responsible for the country, industrial aesthetic). The shop was a natural progression from years of selling her jams and preserves at the Moggil markets.
Prior to that, Julia ran two tea shops – one in Paddington and one in South Bank. The challenge of juggling motherhood with the stress of retail took its toll, however, and Julia eventually relinquished the shops and spent a few years as a stay at home mum to her two daughters. This gave her the time to focus on a future in food. A Masters of Gastronomy through The University of Adelaide further consolidated her plan.
“I was always interested in the theory of food – there’s a lot of science behind the way people eat and communicate around meals,” she says. Julia also had the chance to pursue her interest in jam making and soon, her pantry shelves were groaning with delectable preserves. There was only so much her family could consume, however, and it was then that Julia decided to secure a stall at the local Moggil farmers market, successfully building a client base there for many years.
Once her daughters had both left home, it seemed the perfect opportunity to take the next step and open her own shop. “I’d always lived locally and needed something to do next and didn’t want to be travelling so the theory was that I found something to do close to home.” A rental space came up in a thriving, quaint Kenmore precinct and she took the plunge.
Her initial plan was to sell her homemade take home meals, jams and preserves and pantry essentials such as specialty flours, organic grains and fresh locally grown produce. The emphasis of the home cooked fare was that it was made using wholesome ingredients a home cook would use. They still supply these ready take home meals but there’s more café vibe than produce store, with a menu including wholesome meals, home-baked cakes, house-made beverages, gourmet loose tea and aromatic coffee.
While she had experience in the long hours required in retail, Julia admits that running her current café was “physically a lot more demanding than I thought”. In her first year she was working thirteen hour days – from 4.30 am to 6.30pm, six days a week.
These days, she has an assistant to share the killer early starts although she’s still in the shop by 6.45 am and works through to 6pm. “We are always busy because we make everything on site. There’s a huge amount of cooking which has increased as the shop has evolved.”
Julia’s catering and cooking classes
The café also provides outside catering and to top it all, Julia runs fortnightly Tuesday evening cooking classes. “I didn’t want it to be complicated but I think most of us get into such a rut and I hopefully provide a bit of inspiration and help change what people are cooking at night. I provide an opportunity to use different ingredients they wouldn’t perhaps normally use.“
Judging preserves and cakes at the Ekka
As if this isn’t enough to occupy her time, once a year, she’s also involved in the judging of preserves and cakes at the Ekka with fellow esteemed foodie, Alison Alexander. Julia’s knowledge in this area was enhanced during her role as chairperson of the Queensland Country Women Association. She was also part of their cooking committee and ran courses to teach members how to judge preserves and cakes.
Her own skills are evident throughout the café and she is constantly tweaking dishes to come up with something new. “Part of my philosophy is that I don’t want to make the same thing day in and day out, so I keep playing.”
There won’t be much time for playing once the countdown to Christmas begins, however.
Preparing for Christmas
One of the busiest times of year is still ahead and she and her staff are already chopping up fruit and nuts in preparation for their much lauded and pre-ordered Christmas cakes. “We make around 100 Sri Lankan Christmas cakes and 30 gluten free ones.”
The exotic sounding Sri Lankan cake has a fragrant mixture of spices including cardamom and ingredients such as rosewater – semolina is used instead of flour, which creates a creates a lightness more in keeping with a heady Queensland summer.
And while this all sound rather manic, Julia loves the sense of community her shop evokes. “We have some lovely customers. This sort of retail adds a sense of community you can’t get from your local supermarket – it’s a different way of shopping and interacting.”
Julia’s small business advice
Her advice to aspirant small business owners? “You’ve just got to do it and it won’t be how you think it’s going to be and you have to be flexible enough to change where you need to. Just because something is your passion doesn’t mean it will convert into a commercially viable business.”
Judging by the congenial buzz on this weekday morning, she seems to have found just the right mix.
Connect with Julia’s Pantry
Story by Lois Nicholls | Copyright 2015
Photos courtesy of Julia Pantry’s Facebook Page
Portrait photo of Julia Matusik by Keegan Nicholls Photography