Picture this: it’s early morning and you’re walking along Flinders Street at the edge of Melbourne’s city centre, the sun is just starting to peek over the trees on the southeast side of the city, and you think to yourself, “the only way this could be better is if I were drinking a delicious coffee right now…” then, lo and behold, you stumble across a pastel paradise with a sign declaring “Vacation.”
Opened in August 2017, Vacation is the brainchild of Julian Bedford, Jimmy Tjoeng, and brothers Kael and Matt Sahely—a group that collectively has a wealth of experience working in and owning cafes, including the likes of Dukes Coffee Roasters, Pillar of Salt, Caravan Coffee (London), Sensory Lab, and Bawa.
As has been mentioned numerous times before here on Sprudge, Melbourne isn’t lacking in coffee shops. In fact, you could say the city is somewhat awash—okay, flooded—with coffee options. The flipside of this, however, is that the population’s appetite for good coffee appears to be near insatiable, which allows gems like Vacation to carve out a neat little niche for themselves in the competitive city centre.
Sitting on the corner of Exhibition and Flinders Streets, Vacation is a beautifully light and airy space, with a 6.5-metre-high roof, floor-to-ceiling windows (to take in the surprisingly expansive view over Melbourne’s Botanic Gardens and MCG), 1950s-style pastels, and a plenitude of satisfyingly rounded corners. Architecture and interior design of the space was undertaken by Alex Lake of Therefore Studio, with branding by The Company You Keep—with the brief by the Vacation team to the tune of “peaceful, tranquil, holiday vibes.” It’s an aesthetic that immediately feels calm and acts as a point of difference from the white-tiled, brass and copper, light wood Scandinavian stylings of many of Melbourne’s cafes, and has even been referred to as “millennial-pink Tatooine” by some visitors (which feels strangely apt).
Chatting with Bedford, it’s clear that they set out to build a cafe that didn’t take itself too seriously, “We think that coffee quality doesn’t have to come at the expense of approachability and service—so we just tried to make it a bit fun and kooky,” he says. Whimsical illustrations personify the flavour notes on their packaging (including a googly-eyed pineapple), part of the fun and lighthearted approach of the Vacation brand.
Espresso is brewed here on a white powder-coated La Marzocco Linea with Victoria Arduino Mythos One grinders, while filter is exclusively brewed with FETCO—showcasing the coffee that the Vacation team roast themselves at Bureaux Collective, a coffee roasting collaborative space in Abbotsford. The food offering sits neatly alongside the coffee, with a simple cafe menu: think sandwiches (with Meatsmith cured meat), toast with fancy toppings (avocado, seeds and sprouts, or peanut butter, banana, black sesame), and mueslis—as well as pastries from Noisette and Cobb Lane, and some raw and refined-sugar-free treats from Sarah Sivaraman who bakes in-house.
The response from patrons and the local coffee industry alike to Vacation has been a positive one so far: it’s still a rarity to see a specialty coffee shop located in the city centre that has such a substantial food offering, and it’s even more unique for somewhere like that to open on the weekends as it does (which thoroughly pleases the multitudes of local customers who live in the city).
Looking towards the future, Bedford and the team hope to open more shops, and also have their own roasting space. Keeping in line with their aesthetic, however, they’re going to take it slowly and let it grow organically, always making sure not to take it too seriously because, after all, it’s a Vacation, right?
Eileen P. Kenny is a coffee professional, winemaker, and Sprudge Media Network contributor based in Melbourne. Read more Eileen P. Kenny on Sprudge.