As a boy Blake Forrester would spend most weekends riding his bike with mates, "going from milk bar to corner shop all day, picking up a soft drink here and a killer python there".
"You could turn your $2 worth of lawn mowing or car washing money into an adventure that lasted a whole day," he said.
"I loved the way that milk bars were the focal point for so many little suburban rituals that seem to have fallen away in recent years."
Last week Forrester, who also owns Lynch's Hub at Honeysuckle, opened an old-school milk bar at Mayfield with his wife Ash. It's called Hoppo's in memory of her late father, Les Hopton.
"Les and his brothers Ross and Jeff were much-loved primary school teachers in and around Newcastle," Forrester said.
"Les wasn't crazy about the fact that his daughter started seeing a Navy bloke when I turned up on the scene but he wound up being a very important mentor for me and probably the best friend I'll ever have.
"He was a life member at the local cricket club where the pavilion is named after him and taught half the kids in our suburb at a school where the annual achievement award is still named after him.
"He was the world's leading authority on hot chips and milkshakes and he would have loved the milk bar idea.
"It just seemed fitting to name it after somebody we loved so much who was a real champion of that Australian suburban culture that we are wanting to tap into."
The Hoppo's menu pays homage to the retro offerings of suburban milk bars of the 1980s but with a modern twist. The jacket potatoes are loaded with toppings like Thai curry chicken with a paprika and cumin butter, or the poached egg with grilled ham, spinach, lemon and parsley butter, and hollandaise sauce.
There's also the Dahl Spud (red lentil dahl with cashew cream and horseradish vegan butter) and the Nacho Spud (savoury mince, salsa, house-made nacho sauce, sour cream and chipotle butter).
"We have fresh, house-made gelato which we also use as the base for our shakes. We have eight flavours but I'm awaiting delivery of a larger freezer which will take us to 20. We also bake a range of cookies in-store, and then there's classic cafe fare like bacon and egg rolls and banana bread."
There's even a lolly counter and pinball machines to play.
It just seemed fitting to name it after somebody we loved so much who was a real champion of that Australian suburban culture that we are wanting to tap into.Blake Forrester
Forrester spared no expense with the coffee set-up in the hope of expanding a program recently piloted at Lynch's Hub.
"Work and life with my four sons has shaped a lot of what we are trying to do here. My home is a bit of a smorgasbord of neurodiversity: we have autism, ADHD, Tourette Syndrome and OCD in the mix," he said.
"At Lynch's hub we are working with some occupational therapists, a HR consultant and a disability service provider to develop hospitality sector skills-building opportunities for neurodiverse young people.
"The equipment and the menu offering at Hoppo's has been carefully planned with training and skills-building opportunities in mind.
"For example, we coupled a reverse-osmosis plant with a top-of-the-line La Marzocco Strada ABR and components like the Swift grinder and Perfect Moose milk solution.
"And, as always, we continue to work closely with Sprocket Roasters to ensure that we are turning out the absolute best espresso service possible."
Club Nights will also feature at Hoppo's. Forrester says it's important that the business generates some positive social impact to the community.
"It's a pretty simple but fun fundraising idea. Basically, a local community group that needs a hand with fundraising comes in and takes over our ice-cream cabinet on a Monday night. They market their own event and supply a couple of organisers to scoop and they get to keep half the price of every scoop sold."
He hopes the milk bar will help him - and others - to stay in touch with modern suburban culture.
"With the food offering appealing to young people, and the more nostalgic elements aimed at my generation, it might be a pretty cool way to bring people together in a place like Mayfield where the population is changing rapidly," he explained.
"If Hoppo's can become something that causes people of different generations to work together on what a sense of community looks like moving forward, then that would probably be the crowning achievement of my time in small business."
As for Lynch's Hub, it remains his first love.
"I remember fishing behind the old Fisherman's Co-op on Wharf Road as a kid 30 years ago, looking at the Lynch's building and thinking to myself 'I'd love a little shop like that on the water one day'. They'll have to take me out of Lynch's in a box, I reckon."
Hoppo's Milk Bar, 268 Maitland Road, Mayfield. Open daily, 7am to 5pm.
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