James Laskie has eyed off the milk bar on Barton Street, Hawthorn, as a cafe site for a good eight years. "I'd drop in a couple of times a year, at least, just to check whether the owners wanted to sell," he says. In October 2018, he finally got the call. It was his.
But after waiting so long, James and his sister Cat didn't want to rush to open. "We've spent a lot of time and effort trying to nail the fitout and feel of the place," says James.
The pair opened Malvern's 30 Mill Espresso and Adeney Milk Bar in Kew, and still run Gellibrand Cafe in Reservoir. Their new landlords (also siblings, who have worked in the milk bar together on and off since their family took ownership in 1969) tell them that the building is more than a century old.
That history has inspired their design direction. "A lot of the cafes in Europe get their character from the fact that they've been there so long," says James. "It's such a beautiful building. It has beautiful features; we've tried to retain that character and charm."
It's also keeping its original name – Barton Milk Bar – and you'll still be able to buy loaves of bread, cartons of milk, eggs, newspapers, ice-cream and lollies. These alongside breakfast and lunch staples such as eggs benedict and smashed avocado, plus a few new dishes and house-roasted coffee.
"We'd love to create something that becomes an institution down the track," says James, "or, at the least, a really cool hangout."
The Laskies' new project will open at 39 Barton Street, Hawthorn, by July.