Owners of Richmond’s Café Azul, Jess Hardwick and her younger sister have been restaurateurs since they were practically kids!
“We were 20 and 21 when we started our first café on Bridge Road called Flaunt,” explains Hardwick.
“We sold it after three years thinking it was too much work and both pursued other interests but after five years away we missed it.
“We enjoy being part of the community and being the highlight of people’s day when they leave work for a coffee break, a chat and a laugh! We wanted to get back into it and we are good at it.”
When opening Café Azul, Hardwick says they wanted to create the sort of place you’d come everyday and feel comfortable on your own.
The current chef is a sponsored a chef from Nepal. Hardwick was in the kitchen herself for many years until she fell pregnant.
“I do the majority of the menus, with staff, suppliers and customer input. The chef does contribute with things he has learned in other restaurants and he is great with soups and curries, he definitely works magic with many herbs and spices I’d have no idea about.”
When creating a new dish for the menu, Hardwick says she will look to trends and seasonal produce.
“I come up with a rough idea for a dish or an ingredient I want to use then I go to Instagram, Pinterst, food blogs or the net in general and food magazines for inspiration to help grow my idea.
“Then, lots of experimenting and talking with the kitchen staff to see if my creativity isn’t going to be a logistical nightmare!
“Before I go crazy with the new dish testing I first see where I can get the new ingredients.”
When choosing produce, Hardwick says relationships with suppliers are very important.
“We look for good customer service, locally produced where possible, and consistency in quality.
“Sometimes I even look to suppliers for menu inspiration by seeing what new items they stock and then use that as the base and create a dish from there.
“We usually change with the season and keep the basic dishes all year around.”
In terms of coffee, at Café Azul they like to support smaller companies that most cafés wouldn’t use. When customers look for certain bigger brands of coffee this can be a challenge, but in the end quality wins out.
Aside from coffee, the freshly squeezed juices are king. While it is a trend for lots of places to buy cold pressed juices, Azul prefer to make juice fresh rather than supply pre-packaged ones.
“During the week our ‘eggs your own way’ is the most popular thing on the menu,” says Hardwick.
“A lot of customers come in on their own, want a simple breakfast with good quality ingredients and just not have to make it and clean up after themselves at home. On the weekend the bigger, more decadent breakfasts are more popular.
“Our soups and curries are made with homemade stocks and are good soul food, which are very popular for weekday lunches.”
Hardwick says that making the perfect coffee comes down to making sure the dose, grind and pour time are correct for the type of beans you are using.
“Aside from a good tamp, nice warm cups and correct milk texturing for the type of coffee you are making, you can’t go wrong. And all that actually takes a lot of skill! Doing that, while keeping a smile on your face while numerous coffee dockets keep printing and customers are standing there talking to you is actually quite a talent.”
Hardwick says they have always had the philosophy that an area of great cafes creates an area where many people come and will actually travel to.
“We like to be part of the community and for customers to feel the cafe is an extension of their living room. We also believe in laws of attraction – like attracts like. Our cafe is casual and relaxed and those sorts of people are our main business.”
346 Bridge Rd,
Richmond VIC 3121