The 24 year-old owner of Two of Melbourne's Best Cafes
20 January, 2020
The sit-down Australian breakfast has experienced a decade long renaissance which has delivered us a Melbourne café scene featuring a ferocity of competition which has no equal. Customer expectations are lofty, very lofty, and less than a handful of unsatisfied punters can be terminal for unlucky venues. As Connor Cunliffe, owner of Fledgling Espresso and Barlog Espresso puts it, “this is a tough game, highly competitive, it is as simple as that.” So how is it that a 24-year-old can come to own two of Melbourne’s most adored cafes, in a cut-throat
industry where the rate of failure is so frighteningly exorbitant.
'the resultant redundancy was his unlikely saviour from a good old-fashioned firing'
Connor’s introduction into Melbourne’s hospitality industry was unpoetic. After two years as a kitchen-hand in the Eastern suburb of Canterbury, the sale of the café which employed him, and resultant redundancy, was his unlikely saviour from a good old-fashioned firing, on account of his admitted immaturity and dwindling motivation. It was at MOB in Camberwell that Connor found more fertile ground. Working under Julien Moussi, the well-known proprietor of many of Melbourne’s most well-regarded cafes, he flourished, becoming head barista, and occupying the space behind the grinder at Tinker Northcotte, The Temperance Society, Age of Sails and Legacy Camberwell. Responsibility was the tonic for immaturity, and a mentor was found.
In the years that followed, Fledgling Espresso was conceived and manifested in the Northern blocks of Carlton, and Connor was the owner of his first café at the slightly green age of 22. Today, locals continue to embrace Fledgling with a relaxed ambience, and brunch and coffee of the highest order as their neighbourhood cafe. But it was the opening of Barlog Espresso in mid-2019, in the notorious hospitality battlegrounds of the Docklands, where Connor and his mother Vanessa, the Fledgling/Barlog matriarch, were afforded the greater challenge. The demands of the higher-paced corporate crowd has required some studious testing and adjusting, “the clientele expect a higher rate of service, quality, speed and presentation. Demographics in the city are different and the convenience of a coffee can win over quality. The process for people getting to know that we are here and that we serve great coffee has been slow, but we are starting to get some traction.”
'I just love this business, making good coffee and serving great food'
So, what factors can we attribute to our protagonists’ journey from dispensable kitchenhand to the Connor of today? The predictability of the answer does not subtract from its infallibility - people and passion. People in the form of his mother and business partner Vanessa, his enduring mentor Julien and his team which staff the two fabulous cafes, “My mum and I make a great duo, and we have a great team behind us. I still talk to Julien regularly and I am extremely grateful to be able to call on him for advice.” The passion piece is best left to Connor, “I just love this business, making good coffee and serving great food, it’s what I love to do”, and who can argue with that?
TheCulinaryInsight’s pick from Barlog Espresso is the Lemon Curd Pancakes, which have quickly assumed signature dish status. The pancakes come topped with pink Persian fairy floss, a ‘tip of the hat’ to Fledgling Espresso, which was an early pioneer of the carnival treat. Barlog Espresso’s bean of choice is Inglewood, and the coffee as good as any.
MON TO FRI : 7AM - 3PM
SAT & SUN : 8AM - 3PM
Shop 11/2 Waterview Walk, Docklands