Chris McGorlick and Lauren Salathiel • Yackandandah
Saint Monday isn’t just there to feed Yackandandah: it’s there to promote, celebrate and ultimately grow the local culture.
“We want visitors, in one stop, to get a genuine experience of the area through what they eat and experience, and we want locals to have their community reflected back to them,” says Chris McGorlick, who started the business 18 months ago with his partner Lauren Salathiel.
“This is our idea of what a café in the country should be like. It should be an expression of where it’s located.”
Chris and Lauren both bring backgrounds in community development to the business, and you can feel that in the way they run Saint Monday. You can also feel the genuine affection they have for Yackandandah and the people that live there.
“Localism and strong community values are important to us. We use local ingredients and we don’t just want to put them on a plate, we want to share their stories,” says Chris.
“We work to reduce our circle of impact to as small an area as possible and minimise waste.”
In doing so, Chris and Lauren are growing their role from business owners to creators of local culture, by producing something that could only ever exist in the community.
“A community gets stronger as you tell its story and share what it is all about with a wider and wider audience.”
The couple moved to Yackandandah six years ago. Chris and Lauren both grew up around northern Victoria and, after meeting in Numurkah, they moved, studied and travelled before deciding to return to the region. Living in Beechworth, it was Chris’ work at the local government office in Yackandandah that first introduced him to the town.
“It’s not a big place, there are about seven or eight hundred people living here and one or two thousand in the immediate surrounds, but they support a lot of great things. The community came together to buy their own petrol station, and they’re committed to being completely powered by renewables, he says.
Chris has a long history in hospitality, for example, and they’ve both worked on organic farms, exchanging labour for room and board. They’ve been particularly drawn to farms that also offer some form of hospitality enterprise, such as a bed and breakfast or art program.
So after moving to Yackandandah, the couple realised their interests – community, hospitality, good food – had been inadvertently leading them to the café all along.
The Saint Monday menu is equally stocked for all dietary types , such as vegetarian and vegan, so the assumption was it would be a bit of niche enterprise.
But, having planned for a slow start, the couple had to double their initial staff of five in the first month due to high demand.
Because it’s driven by the best produce available from local growers, the menu changes often. There’s one dish that’s survived the last few changes, though: the Open Sesame. It’s tofu lightly fried in panko crumbs and sesame seeds served with coconut rice, fermented carrots and in-season greens and pickles with a spicy satay sauce, and Chris says it’s a favourite.
“It’s a good example of our food. It’s interesting, and it’s a vegan dish that appeals to meat eaters as well.”
Saint Monday accessed a lot of government information to get the business started and put together their business plan.
“That was very helpful. Neither of us has ever run a business before, so to get an idea of what others had done was great.”
Government support is also helping them grow their next project for Saint Monday, in the form of a grant from Tourism North East. Coming from the Kickstart project, that funding is for collaborative projects from businesses that produce new tourism products.
Saint Monday is working with another local business, Events That Matter, to create “Field Trip Yackandandah” a series of experiential tours based around themes and ideas. Visitors will be taken to nearby hot spots to hear from locals about what they do, why they do it and why they’re doing it in Yackandandah. Tours will end with a shared meal to discuss the experience in depth. A series of night-time events are also planned, featuring storytelling, theatre and song.
It’s all about extending Chris and Lauren’s philosophy of creating culture beyond the limits of the café.
“What’s been really valuable for us is to understand why we do what we do. That’s stopped us pursuing opportunities that would take us away from that. We also came in with a really strong idea of what we wanted to get out of the business, and that’s allowed us to be really solid.”