There are certain staples that Melbourne cafe connoisseurs have come to expect: minimalist interior design, well-extracted specialty coffee roasted locally, and some unique yet reliable variation on a classic (note: must have poached eggs). Jane and Francois Marx’s new Richmond cafe, Long Street Coffee, ticks all the requisite boxes.
To the unacquainted customer, Long Street simply looks like a new Melbourne cafe. What many customers may not know, however, is that by buying a morning coffee or having lunch at Long Street, they are contributing to meaningful social change. Long Street is a social enterprise that trains and employs refugees and asylum-seekers in hospitality service. In a political environment where the arrival and treatment of refugees and asylum seekers is deeply polarizing and politicized, The Marxes have taken a gamble on a cause very meaningful to them, and for which they’ve volunteered extensively in the past.
Currently, Long Street is made up of a staff of five: the Marxes, a chef, and two trainees from The Gambia and Iran. The process works like this: first, the Marxes receive resumes by local organizations the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and Brotherhood of St Laurence. They then go through these organizations to ensure that the trainees they hire have appropriate work rights and are mentally and physically ready to learn and be employable in a competitive cafe scene with high expectations of staff. According to Jane Marx, asylum seekers and refugees hear about Long Street and go to the cafe looking for work weekly, but it’s important to the Marxes to go through the appropriate channels, both for the smooth running of their business and to be able to train people who are ready to work. Often people who have experienced trauma require other services before they are work-ready, and honoring this is important to the team. “It takes time to create an environment where people who have experienced hardship can come and feel welcome and supported and encouraged,” Jane Marx said.
Jane and Francois Marx have decades of hospitality work between them, but nothing could have prepared them for the energy, time, and money required to make Long Street happen. “We are at the whim of market forces, just like any other cafe,” Jane Marx said. “If we are quiet, I have to send staff home. We are not funded.” Although they have received start-up grants and some donations—like the granite for their beautiful cafe tables—it’s been blood, sweat, tears, many hours, few breaks, and a lot of their own money that’s made Long Street happen. When I arrived on my first visit, Francois Marx was taking a brief break to shoot hoops in the alleyway basketball hoop that’s flanked by colorful street art. They are grateful to have been relatively busy from the start, but relish opportunities to step back and admire their creation in the midst of their long hours.
The care that’s gone into this project is evident. The food and beverage offerings at Long Street are well-curated and high-quality. I had the quinoa poached eggs: a beautifully presented and filling dish of perfectly poached eggs dusted in quinoa, confit tomato, asparagus, mushrooms, herbs, and sourdough toast. Long Street also sells pastries by Aunty Peg’s, Proud Mary’s cellar door and bakery. Proud Mary espresso drinks and filter coffees are joined on the bar by Mörk hot chocolate, a Melbourne favorite.
The founders’ goal is twofold: to make Long Street a cafe that customers love, and to become an institution with a reputation for training capable, excited hospitality professionals. They have achieved the first goal in a cafe worth a visit for the food and drinks alone. They’ve fielded a lot of questions from those who do know that they are a social enterprise on what people can do to help with the second goal. The answer is simple: go. The busier they are, the more trainees they can hire. The goal at the moment is to hire trainees (to whom they pay a fair wage from the start) for about six months, and then encourage them to apply elsewhere with their newfound skills and experience. “Our success will be determined by them getting work,” Jane Marx said.
Note: If readers from abroad are interested in donating towards paying wages for the trainees, they are welcome to visit Long Street’s Brewing for Change page on Pozible.
Phylisa Wisdom (@phylisajoy) is a freelance journalist based in Melbourne. Read more Phylisa Wisdom on Sprudge.
Photos by Stina Evjan, Gold and Grit Photography