Do-it-yourself cafes the new flavour of Melbourne's foodie scene

Customers at Chia Chia can make up their own salads.
Customers at Chia Chia can make up their own salads. Photo: Vince Caligiuri

If the queues at the recent Magnum pop-up store at Emporium Melbourne are anything to go by, make-your-own food is about to become a big hit.

Franchised Food Company chief executive Stan Gordon says DIY food stores contain an element of excitement and theatre for the consumer.

"People want to make their own bespoke individual products. People want to individualise a product to reflect themselves. We’re already doing this with Cold Rock," he says.

Owner of successful ice cream franchises Cold Rock, Trampoline and Mr Whippy, Mr Gordon says concepts which do well take a product that people already know and love, and modernise it.

"It could be a different way of selling, merchandising, presenting or consuming, but the base products should be the same," he says.

"Customised Mac and Cheese places are becoming a big thing in America. They’re sort of like Subway where people can choose their own extras."

Cold Rock owner Stan Gordon predicts DIY food is going to take-off in Melbourne
Cold Rock owner Stan Gordon predicts DIY food is going to take-off in Melbourne Photo: Josh Robenstone

Founder of make-your-own salad cafes Edamama and Chia Chia, Ricky Marcelo, says there’s been an overwhelming response to the cafes since the first one opened in 2012.

"There’s an enormous chance this could take-off," he says. "Since we opened the first store at St Kilda Rd Towers, we've had a lot of approaches from CBRE and Colliers inviting us to open in corporate environments because that’s what people want."

Mr Marcelo says he’s been invited to bring the concept to Perth and Queensland too, but he intends to focus on Melbourne before expanding interstate.

"I'm opening at least another four stores by August next year and we're in negotiation with another two sites... but I don't want to expand too soon, too thin," he says.

Mr Marcelo opens all the stores under new names (such as Sage and Pomegranate), but the stores only have minor differences, use the same logo and people are able to buy into the concept, similar to a franchise model.

He says people love the make-your-own concept because it empowers consumers.

"When people get excited about making their own food, they feel a sense of power and they feel good," he says.

"It's fun, quick and fast but it's still fresh and organic. It encourages people to come back time and time again."

Mr Marcelo is in the process of setting up a make-your-own pasta restaurant, where food lovers will be able to pick their pasta, create their own sauce and have it made in front of them.

The concept taps into the excitement people feel when watching a chef prepare a personalised omelette or pancake for them to order when staying in a luxury hotel.

Other make-your-own food stores which have previously been successful, include Subway and more recently Mad Mex, where people choose what to include in their tacos and burritos.  

It has also proven successful in the beverage industry, with many micro-breweries and wineries offering to teach people how to make their own beer and wine.

 Profitable Hospitality founder Ken Burgin says whenever there is a bit of theatre involved, people are always attracted to the store.

"Consider events like festivals, the store that has the most people around it, is always the one where there are big flames and food being cooked there in front of you," he said.

"Make-your-own food stores tend to be a little more labour intensive, but the theatre element is a plus."

Mr Burgin said people love having choices.

"In the olden days a menu would have had four entrees, six mains and three desserts, but we love choice...we love having the extra control over ingredients," he says.

"It also turns the kitchen back-to-front, where the chef no longer has his back to the audience; it’s made there in front of you."

Other food trends set to fly or flop:


They’ve been around for a while, but Mr Gordon says there are a number of new players entering the gourmet burger market, triggering a possible boom period. Tom Potter, one of the original founders of Eagle Boys Pizza, became involved with Burger Urge this year.

Frozen yoghurt

See you later frozen yoghurt. Following an influx of businesses in the past few years, this trend is set to reverse. Two frozen yoghurt brands have collapsed so far in 2014. Bloo Moo Frozen Yoghurt was placed in liquidation in April, as was Treat Frozen Yoghurt in May. 

Pop-up shops

A raft of well-known food shops have recently opened pop-up stores in Melbourne, such as Jimmy Grants, which has opened in the pop-up precinct near Collins and Exhibition streets in the CBD. Roll’d co-founder Bao Hoang predicts they're here to stay, saying they’re "a good way to test a concept".

Gourmet versions of everyday foods

Fancy some gourmet fish and chips or a souvlaki with extra bite? Boost Juice co-founder Janine Allis thinks you will. "You can do gourmet in any category," she says. "There is still a lot of growth to be had in this category."