It started with a Midlife Crisis
If the sports car was bought 15 years ago, what else is there left to do when one suddenly hits 40 something and is no longer happy with the status quo? He kicks in the job even though the wife only works part time and there are two young children, to fulfill a burning ambition smouldering since his early twenties – he buys a cafe. Only he is not alone. A brother is there for moral and financial support because for years now, they have both planned and dreamed, compared stories of late night incidents – stories derived from restaurants in central London, nightclubs in outer suburban Melbourne and corner pubs in the inner North where they both did hospitality stints in their twenties. There is only one problem. The other brother lives 10,000 kilometres away, in the far east.
Every year at Christmas time, the ‘number one son’ (the other brother) ‘comes home’. It’s a wonderful opportunity for everyone to catch up and for all the kids to pick up where they left off. The kids play backyard cricket and footy, lounge around on Nonna’s couch watching television munching on Zia’s home made pizza then having Nonna’s homemade pasta for dinner. Occasionally the kids have spent hours designing their ideal cafe and dream about what job they will have when they start working in in it. Children’s imagination is incredible so anything goes when it comes to their plans. We all encourage them to create drawings more extravagant than the previous ones – any excuse to keep them off ‘kick’, ‘instagram’ and ‘minecraft’. It’s clear that cafes run through their DNA.
Over the last few years during his Melbourne stays, the older brother tries to get away from Nonna’s house, so that he and his brother can spend entire days visiting cafe after cafe, to compare, conclude and decide what they would do if this or that place was their own. Each time he walks out of the house, he is enveloped by delectable cooking aromas created by Nonna herself. However it isn’t long before Nonna’s voice would smother these with “Whydoyiouwannago outa fora coffee? Whatisa wronga witha the coffee in thisa housa? I maka the perfectly gooda coffee’! Whata tima are you gonna be homa? I wanta hava dinna onthe tavola whena you getta homa! You are notta going to have a luncha? Whatsa wronga with you? You what? You going out witha your brother? You tella hima to coma over for dinna! And bring the kidsa too!” Aaahhh precious moments with Nonna!
The constant research has extended to an overseas trip. During the inaugural trip last year that was taken so that the kids could meet all the relatives, more research was put into finding the best cafes in Rome, Athens and Paris than any other trip planning (the tourist stuff was left to me). Treks were made from one end of Paris to another with kids in tow, to find THAT cafe where THAT barista from Australia had set up shop and had not looked back since. Hours were spent talking with the respective owner, comparing the burgeoning Melbourne coffee culture with that of Paris and other parts of Europe. “It’s even huge in Stockholm and other Nordic countries”, they’d say, “Did you know that a pub at a Welsh uni had closed down because everyone just wants to drink coffee!” (strange but true). We were thrilled because within days, we’d drunk our way through at least half a dozen cafes run by young, passionate Australians in the middle of Paris. By the end of it, we were armed with enough information to want to kick in the day job and setup our own place even before we returned to Australian turf.
“I think I’ve found a place,” he said. That’s what started it all. I was at the tennis with the kids. “And I’m going to pick you up in ten minutes so you can see it”. “But I’m at the tennis!” I said. “I really do think this is the place and I think we should see it together — now,” he replied. That was it. By the time I had returned to the tennis where my sister was with the kids, our life had certainly taken a different turn. “I think I found a place” he Skyped to his brother. “Wow! Fantastic! Will you take it? How much will it cost? What can I do to help?” he responded. “I think we’ve found a place Ma,” I said to Mum. “With God’s help, let it be a success. If only your father was alive, he’d be so proud of you,” she responded beaming. “I think I found a place”, he said to Nonna. “Areyoua crazy? Youa havea joba! You have the children and a wifa! You cannot buya cafe! Wherea you going to get the money from? Itsa too mucha money. How mucha did you pay?” she responded. ” Yes but Ma, this is the beginning. If we do really well, then my brother can do the same – resign from his job and return to Melbourne to help.” he replied. “Ah, that’sa very gooda. Your brother will coma back to Australia. The kidsa too. But you and your brother, you are too olda to starta cafe. You are nota used to harda work like me and your papa.” There is nothing like a parent to give you bucket fulls of encouragement. As mentioned, with Nonna, it’s another one of those precious moments. Now she nods and looks forward to the number one son coming home one day. At least that’s now a reality for her after many years of him living overseas with his family and ‘missing out on Nonna’s gnocchi, pasatta (homemade tomato sauce) and biscottini.
Now Skyping with the brother is a nightly occurrence. Conversation generally centres around a debrief of the day’s events, a discussion of the next steps and mutual encouragement on both sides to just keep going. In the meantime, budgets are being set, reviewed then set again, finances are organised with mounds of forms and legal documentation. Cafe designs are drawn, refined and enhanced with the help of the brother-in-law whose been an enormous support with his impeccable skills. The younger brother is also dragged in to deal with branding, my sister to help her husband with the design. Colleagues from all areas of the previous career have been called upon to contribute their skills and talents. As the cliché goes, the simple idea that started over pizza and coffees on a Sunday afternoon with keen family members, kids included and contributing of course, has now taken on a life of its own. The drawings and ideas that were scrawled on the back window that afternoon still remain there three months later. They remain as a reminder of how far we’ve come simply because of the vision we had and the sheer determination, tenacity and the heap of passion we’ve all put into this so far.
Tickets are booked. The brother is coming to Australia next week, two weeks before he moves countries with is own family. “I know we’re moving but this is a big deal and I want to be part of it,” he says, “I want to do what I can to help make it a success. Even though I am far away, I am just as keen and excited as my brother.” What can I say. With no Nonno and my Papa no longer being around, I think we need all the family support we can get. And Nonna? She’s been busy making homemade gnocchi, fettucini, biscottini and jams since March. And the cleaning hasn’t stopped. After all, the number one son is coming home.