'Completely overwhelmed': loyal customers raise funds to support much-loved Melbourne cafe

Jono Freeman, co-owner of Cup of Truth in the Campbell Arcade underpass.
Jono Freeman, co-owner of Cup of Truth in the Campbell Arcade underpass. Photo: Wayne Taylor

Humbled. Emotional. Speechless. These are words that keep popping up for Courtney Patterson and Jon Freeman, owners of tiny CBD cafe Cup of Truth.

A week ago they launched an online fundraiser through GoFundMe as a last ditch effort to find $6000 needed to repair their pride and joy, a handsome La Marzocco Strada coffee machine.

Two days later, their customers had pledged the funds necessary to get the machine fixed – and then some.

Baristas Jon Freeman (left) and Courtney Patterson serving early morning coffee and wisdom at Cup Of Truth in 2015.
Baristas Jon Freeman (left) and Courtney Patterson serving early morning coffee and wisdom at Cup Of Truth in 2015. Photo: Paul Jeffers

"I'm completely overwhelmed," says Freeman. "I think I would have been happy with $500 over eight weeks. But the day after we launched, I received text messages congratulating me and I didn't know why.

"For the last year and a half I have been burying my emotions deep, but when I realised why people were contacting me, well, I haven't had that hard a cry in my whole life."

The pandemic has been tough for every city cafe but Cup of Truth has extra challenges. The 12-year-old espresso bar is a tiny three-by-one-metre nook in Campbell Arcade, the pink-tiled underpass that links Flinders Street Station and Degraves Street. It serves commuters and they've been thin on the ground.

"I would have been happy with $500 over eight weeks," says Freeman.
"I would have been happy with $500 over eight weeks," says Freeman.  Photo: Wayne Taylor

The cafe is also under threat from the Metro Tunnel project. "They are proposing to build into the arcade," says Patterson. "We've been supposed to be closing for the past three years. The rail project bought our lease and we're on a month-to-month arrangement. We are seriously up in the air."

After Cup of Truth's Strada coffee machine gave out in April 2020, BrewTech coffee workshop provided a loan machine. It was welcome, but not a long term solution. A new machine would cost around $30,000 and with the city quiet and lockdowns all too frequent, there was no way Cup of Truth could fund repairs.

"Some weeks I only took home $200," says Patterson. "Putting food on the table for my kids had to come first. There have been a lot of sleepless nights."

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He didn't find it easy to look for handouts. "It goes against my morals to ask for free money," he says. "But I thought about how loyal our customers are. I know their kids' names, what dog they have. They are good people. There aren't many I wouldn't be glad to have a beer with. I had a funny feeling it would work."

Ashley Rollke, a regular customer of 10 years, chipped in $200. "It was heartbreaking to see this iconic cafe in dire straits," he says. "I thought if I could help a little bit, it's the least I could do after 10 years of bad jokes and getting sassed in the morning. It's a really special community they've created."

As well as the diehard customers, money was sent from interstate and overseas, and by people who haven't visited at all since the pandemic began. "We didn't realise how much the cafe meant to people," says Freeman.

The owners are planning to engrave every pledger's initials into the rebuilt coffee machine and use any leftover funds for a lockdown emergency trove and a party for supporters.

"This all says a lot about Melbourne," says Freeman. "People talk about the cafes and restaurants and arts, but the people that live here are the fabric. They are what make Melbourne."

Cup of Truth, 12 Campbell Arcade, Melbourne, cupoftruth.com.au