Watching this space
September 20, 2017 3rd Space

Watching this space

Published 20 September 2017

I’m sitting in 3rd Space Café searching for words to describe the weeks since our opening. I can’t be succinct, so I won’t try. It’s been a time of excitement, listening, bedding down, eating, listening, ironing out, talking, learning, listening, serving, talking, writing, listening and eating some more. A lot of listening.

The space is beautiful! Bright, cheerful, inviting. It makes you want to hang around a while and chat. That’s what I’ve been doing; so have our team and our visitors. So many new conversations happen when you pull up a seat next to someone and share a meal or a coffee in their company.

The food is delightful. Fresh, tasty, healthy, nutritious, comforting and contemporary. Our vegetarian lentil curry special is a clear winner. Even our Café Manager, Monisha – who comes from India – gives it her thumbs up. We need a little more flexibility about catering to the indulgent foodie that lives within all of us; the part of us that occasionally likes to eat something that doesn’t tick all the good boxes around sugar consumption. While our main game is to encourage and support great nutrition for all, there is a place in everyone’s life for the odd vanilla slice!

Of course, we’ve had the occasional food hiccup, where something in a dish hasn’t quite gone to plan. Like any good café we look after our visitors, listen to their feedback, own the problem, fix it and offer a refund.

Our menu has been designed by a nutritionist in conjunction with a specialist chef. It is nutrient-dense, very low in sugar and has an emphasis on packing the most amount of punch in a sensible serving size. Everything is cooked from scratch with no food additives or colourings. Gone are the days of lots of white, refined carbohydrates where the ethos was to “feed the homeless” as much as possible. One of our visiting medical staff remarked to me yesterday what an issue there was with obesity and its comorbidities in many of our vulnerable visitors, and how sensible and practical both our menu and our portion sizes were.

Our underlying ethos is that anyone who is legitimately hungry will have access to nutritious food and with that in mind, we have complimentary creamy porridge with fruit, delicious soups like chunky beef and barley served with crusty bread, all-day help-yourself fruit bowls and all the tea you can drink.

For some, there is a sense that because the café is a beautiful space and the food looks delightful, it is more expensive. Interestingly, 90% of items on the menu are a lot less expensive than our old food prices. For one couple, they felt very uncomfortable about how “fancy” the space looked and felt, and about receiving table service. After a few days, they were feeling much better.

So far, the positives have heavily outweighed the negatives. One gentleman told us that after spending a few days ordering coffee in 3rd Space Café, for the first time in years he had felt confident enough to walk into a “regular” café and order a drink. Others have said that they have been enjoying the opportunities to sit and talk.

Overwhelmingly, feedback about the quality of food and our beautiful Di Bella coffee has been stellar. I’m giving Di Bella a shameless plug, not only because the coffee is delightful but because without the Di Bella team, our café would not have come to fruition. Di Bella is an example of the impact an organisation that cares can make when it partners with people who have a dream.

Our ethos of giving people a hand up and not a hand out (but providing the lifeline when it’s needed) is a shift we have been slowly working on for the last 18 months. The transition to the café has been the biggest visual indicator of the change and certainly not everyone has liked it. Why? Change is difficult. Perception of change is even more difficult. We are challenging deep-seated and traditional notions of charity. We believe that “charity,” in its traditional sense, is the poison to empowerment and dignity. Not everyone will agree. We are watching the space and how our lovely visitors move, engage and act in it.

We don’t intend to defend the bold steps we have taken but we are enjoying hearing everyone’s views and having lots of robust discussions about the upsides and downsides. What we see is encouraging and the early data capture supports that.

It is good. It is 3rd Space Café.