NABIHA, a strong-willed Lebanese woman who loved good food and single-handedly built a business empire in the northern suburbs in the ’70s, is the inspiration behind this smart, snazzy Moonee Ponds cafe.
Owners Rosalyn and Sam Manno are on a mission to bring good coffee to an area that needs it and it’s the memory of Rosalyn’s beloved great-aunt that spurs her on. Nabiha’s image is imprinted on the takeaway coffee cups and Rosalyn’s Lebanese heritage strongly influences the menu.
‘‘We’re here to shake things up and show you can have a good cup of coffee in Moonee Ponds,’’ says Rosalyn, who believes the secret behind good coffee is ‘‘passion, hard work and drinking lots of coffee throughout the day’’.
The cafe, which opened four months ago, is hidden away on Hall Street, between two parts of Moonee Ponds Central shopping centre. It’s not the most exciting location but the Mannos have turned a narrow, plain space into an edgy cafe with a copy of a laser-cut mural by artist Rona Green and eco design by Breathe Architecture. The furniture is made from recycled objects and the work was done by Sam, a builder in his former life.
The couple are self-confessed coffee snobs and used to do barista courses just for fun. A redundancy from ANZ gave Rosalyn the chance to try something she always wanted to do. And she did have some background in hospitality — she helped run her parents’ Pascoe Vale pizza restaurant at the age of 13.
They opted for Five Senses coffee, underwent six months of professional training and did a lot of tasting before creating their own blend — a mix of Colombian, Costa Rican, New Guinean and Brazilian single-origin beans.
Sam says they put in the Brazilian beans to add a nice, chocolatey body to flatten out what was a bold, citrusy coffee. He uses a double ristretto to draw out the flavour. Sam praises Five Senses, which is always on standby for trouble-shooting.
The Synesso machine is manual so the barista — either Sam or Wilma Heiskala — is forced to watch each shot coming out and has full control over the coffee.
Often the grinder will be adjusted 20 times a day and they constantly taste for quality control. Tea drinkers aren’t forgotten either, with a range of Chamellia varieties and tisanes. Temperature and timing are monitored closely for each tea.
The simple menu has a Middle Eastern slant — ‘‘to challenge the locals’’ — and the olive bread toast with shanklish (Lebanese cheese) and olive oil, as well as the zaatar pizza with labne, are popular snacks.
Rosalyn, the eldest of six children and a natural boss, loves managing the cafe and meeting customers. Who knows — she may become another great-aunt Nabiha, the role model for all the women in her family.
‘‘Our aim is to be a destination cafe,’’ she says. ‘‘It doesn’t matter where you are if you are putting out a good product.’’
- Prices - Coffee $3.50
- Opening Hours - Mon-Fri, 8am-4pm; Sat, 9am-3pm
- Author - Mary O'Brien