More than seven years ago, I moved from Brisbane to Melbourne to start anew—captivated by the coffee industry, the culture, the opportunities, and the freedom to wear as much dark-colored clothing as I wanted. For those first few years, the range of my living and working largely radiated around the city and the inner-northern suburbs—those hip and happening neighborhoods like Fitzroy and Carlton—if you asked me about anything beyond those bounds back then I’d probably have looked at you blankly, having only ventured outside of my radius to try and find a cheaper second-hand store.
Quite a few years later, with a stint interstate and something hopefully resembling wisdom under my belt, I made the move west, to the suburb of Footscray—a suburb in close proximity to the Port of Melbourne, along a truck transport route, and home to the multicultural buzzing hub of the Footscray market. While the move was largely predicated by the cheaper rent, larger houses, and delicious Vietnamese food there, I happened upon a lot more than I bargained for, including a unique venue dedicated to thoughtful gardening, community, and very importantly great food and coffee, called Rudimentary.
Owned by Desmond Huynh and Lieu Trieu, Rudimentary sits on an expansive corner close to the business centre of Footscray: on half the property sits a beautiful garden and outdoor seating area, while a cafe occupies the rest. Upon walking through the gates, it’s immediately clear Rudimentary is a bit different than your typical cafe, with the structure of the building itself, in fact, made from shipping containers.
It’s a novel choice of building material, and a deliberate one at that. The block of land that Rudimentary now stands on had been in Huynh and Trieu’s family for decades, having previously been an overgrown carpark for local businesses. With the appeal of Footscray growing over the years, the family was continually being approached by developers who wanted to acquire the land, but the family had no interest in either selling or developing it themselves for at least another five years—as such, it was offered to Huynh and Trieu, a wholesale seafood operations manager and a pharmacist, respectively, to do with as they wished in the meantime.
Balking at the scope of such a proposition, the pair initially said no, before thinking on it further and deciding to approach it in a different way. Chatting to Huynh, he outlined, “We had five to 10 years [left at] the site, which meant that we had to get creative with construction methods. I studied architecture some years before and didn’t like the waste the industry created, so rather than build something that would be torn down, we felt it appropriate to create something that was more robust and could be relocated when the time came to move on.”
While shipping containers posed a challenge as an unconventional building material, the positives outweighed the negatives: the materials rang true with the historically industrial feel of Footscray, and the cost-effective nature of the material meant that they could transform the entire block of land on a limited budget, as Huynh puts aptly: “The business name—Rudimentary—gave us the framework for the entire project; it allowed us to create a space that was extensive but not expensive.”
Designed in collaboration with local firm RD Architecture, the cafe interior is light and bright, with a long bar housing the open kitchen and espresso bar that faces the cafe, and well-spaced-out seating. A few visible elements of the shipping container are thoughtfully revealed on the interior—without which you’d have no idea that it wasn’t just a regular cafe fit-out.
Coffee from Small Batch is brewed for espresso using their La Marzocco Linea, while filter coffee is brewed with a Behmor Brazen brewer. Almond milk and chai are made in-house, allowing the team to dictate what goes into the products they serve, as well as allowing them to tweak and improve on them as they wish.
In food-focused Melbourne, more and more is demanded of cafes, and even in this competitive climate, the menu at Rudimentary stands out. As Huynh explained, “We change our menu with every season and we use the season to direct us in where to go. The one thing that guides us most is availability of produce. We use what’s in season because it tastes the best, it’s cheaper, and allows us to keep it local. Avocado, for instance, isn’t always the best year-round and is imported because Australians have an affinity with avo on toast. We elect to just pull it from our menu until it tastes good.”
Over the years, their menu has included inventive takes on classics and beyond, like chicken and waffles—including pickled watermelon rind—kimchi pancakes, and saffron rice pilaf. A key element that guides their menu is their produce that they use from the garden, a mere 10-second stroll from the kitchen itself. “The kitchen garden is run by our gardener, John, who is really knowledgeable and super-positive which gets us all inspired,” Huynh outlined, “John and the kitchen team get together once a season to go through what to plant for the coming months so that we can use whatever we’re growing in the dishes.”
Desmond Huynh and Lieu Trieu, while not being the typical hospitality-lifers that we so often see setting out to open something, have built something quite special in Rudimentary. It’s an incredibly quality-focused venue that pumps out thoughtful food and tasty coffee, while still paying respect to the neighborhood that it calls home and creating a space for the community to congregate. It’s a fine balance that is incredibly hard to accomplish, and one that they’ve managed with aplomb—they’ve combined the old and the new of the diverse and vibrant neighborhood of Footscray, and here’s hoping they get to continue doing so for some time more.
Eileen P. Kenny is a coffee professional, winemaker, and Sprudge Media Network contributor based in Melbourne. Read more Eileen P. Kenny on Sprudge.