He honed his hospitality skills managing pioneering St Kilda cafes Il Fornaio and Cafe Racer. Now Alex Hall is introducing the good people of Des Moines, Iowa (population 1 million), to the modern Australian-style cafe – and he's called the place St Kilda.
Hall, who got New Yorkers hooked on the Australian coffee experience at cafes Milk Bar, Blue Bird and Brunswick, moved to his wife's home town in the US Midwest last year to raise a family and open a business.
Even before the doors opened on June 1, St Kilda was making waves, with a story on the cafe in the local newspaper going viral online.
"It's kind of groundbreaking here," says Hall. "Everyone's freaking out about it."
It was the same in Brooklyn when Hall opened his first cafe a decade ago. "They'd never seen a poached egg, they didn't know what bircher muesli was, but over the years they caught on."
Cafes as we know them in Australia – combining modern interior design, great coffee, colourful healthy food and table service – barely don't exist in the US, he says.
So alien is the concept, in fact, that Hall has taken to calling St Kilda a "daytime restaurant" to clear up confusion.
Locals have been baffled by the menu, too. Sorry, no meat pies, kangaroo burgers and lamingtons. How about smashed avocado with charred corn and feta on sourdough toast or granola with yoghurt, local honey and fruit and a flat white instead?
Even the downtown location raised eyebrows. The real estate broker who reluctantly showed Hall through the 110-year-old former furniture factory thought he was crazy to tackle the refit.
But being an Australian has definitely worked to his advantage, says Hall. "I'm quite exotic here."
300 Southwest 5th Street, Des Moines, Iowa, stkildadsm.com