It's a brave act to open a cafe during a pandemic, but Isaac Whitten and his two business partners, Kurt Bridgement and Ben Campbell, have taken the big step this week.
On Monday the trio opened Folium Cafe, at 122 Ocean Road, Dudley, the former location of Maxy and Mimi's cafe.
From its stylish logo (created by Newcastle artist Sean Fitzpatrick), featuring a leaf overlaid on a sun, to its raw wood and earth-tone colour walls, Folium radiates a warm, welcoming vibe.
And, it's an all-vegan cafe, featuring ethically sourced food and coffee. (Folium's coffee supplier is Floozy). Folium does not use cow's milk in its coffee - rather, oat milk is the main offering.
"We started everything last year in December," Whitten says. "We started planning and booked the space. We put down in a deposit in February."
The coronavirus crisis caused delays, particularly with tradesmen and suppliers. But all things considered, Whitten is content to have opened on June 1, giving the team time to fine-tune their business.
Right now, they are open 7am to 2pm on weekdays, and 7.30am to 1.30pm on Saturday and Sunday (they will be closed on Monday of this coming long weekend to catch their breath).
The plan is for Folium, an offshoot of ancient words for foliage, to become a community hub of sorts. The cafe stocks a range of locally-designed T-shirts, plants and photographs, and, of course, has dog water bowls out the front.
For now, all service is takeaway, but once COVID-19 restrictions are relaxed and the cafe finds its rhythm, there will be tables available inside.
The innovative menu, created by Ben Campbell, features two all-day breakfast plates, three toasties, four salads, three sides and a few sweets, including muffins from The Muffin Mob.
The toasties include:
- corned jackfruit reuben that includes pickles, beetroot sauerkraut, cheese and thousand island dressing on rye;
- tufu schnitzel with nut-free pesto, tomato, vegan cheese on sourdough;
- bacony mushroom with roasted sweet potato, avocado, spinach, sun-dried tomato, and cashew cheese on sourdough.
The four salads: kale caesar with massaged kale, romaine lettuce, tofu schnitzel, rye croutons with caesar dressing and cashew parmesan; daal bowl with lentil daal, sweet potato, brown rice, broccoli, spinach and naan; pesto pasta salad with sun-dried tomatoes, and herbed aioli potato salad.
Sides - yet to be introduced - will include buffalo cauliflower wings with blue cheese dipping sauce, sweet potato chips and handcut potato chips.
The two breakfast plates are a bacon and egg muffin featuring tempeh bacon, tofu egg, avocado, spinah and tomato relish on a wholemeal english muffin; and a big brekkie with scrambled tofu egg, bacon mushrooms, crispy smashed potatoes, baby spinach, beet sauerkraut, tomato relish and rye bread.
Whitten says the menu will be expanded once the cafe can offer seating inside.
While they would love to offer live music, it's not going to be possible in the Dudley location.
The three partners are also friends, and each comes from a different background. Whitten was raised in Tamworth and moved to Nelson Bay at age 20 when he attended the University of Newcastle. He most recently worked for Nine Entertainment as a brand development manager. Bridgement is part of the Newcastle Music Collective, and Campbell has come from the hospitality industry.
Folium also has a co-tenant, with a separate office space in the back of the cafe now leased to artist Jordan Lucky.
The cafe has some of Lucky's artwork on the walls, including a large, brilliant bird mural near the entry. The mural shows a pair of Eastern spinebills, a relative of the honey eater.
"The inspiration for the mural was a spinebill that visits the grevillea that grows next to the cafe," Lucky says.
"We wanted to showcase wildlife in that space and bring some attention to the nature that makes the area of Dudley special."