“I actually didn’t tell my mum that I opened a place up at first,” says 19-year old Damian Vasilevski, who this week launched King William Street’s newest coffee and sandwich shop, The Meat and Cheese Club.
“I was sneaking out of the house and doing the fit-out by myself. The place was a mess when I got it so it took me about 16 days to do the fit-out.
“It was a big investment and a big risk but I knew this was something I wanted to do so I used all my savings and went with it.”
Vasilevski only recently left school, but he has already achieved what most would consider a daunting prospect – using all his savings to open a cafe just a few metres down the road from coffee giant Cibo.
He spent just three weeks working in his uncle’s coffee shop in Sydney and a couple of days speaking to café owners in Melbourne before launching The Meat & Cheese Club.
“I was going to tell Mum and Dad eventually before I opened – it would have been very hard to have kept it a secret.
“We’re very close but I just wanted to keep it to myself for a bit. I wanted my ideas to be here; I wanted it to be my own.”
Vasilevski hand-made the café’s cabinet units, painted the walls himself, and designed his own menu and branding.
He describes the venue as having a “sophisticated and modern look” featuring a black and white interior and a large-scale portrait of his idol, actress Audrey Hepburn.
“I’m a big fan of Audrey Hepburn and I just love that picture of her. I guess it was something I thought would be nice to look at up there.”
Food-wise, The Meat & Cheese Club offers a “simple and uncomplicated” menu featuring South Australian produce reminiscent of the food Vasilevski was brought up to appreciate.
“I was the one, when I was five years old, coming to school with this smelly prosciutto and pecorino sandwiches. The way I was raised was on great-quality food – great-quality cheese, great-quality meats.
“We’re having a smaller profit margin so we can have the best produce possible.”
Vasilevski enlisted the help of local coffee supplier Patio Coffee to make a special Meat & Cheese Club blend. The café uses Udder Delights cheese, Paris Creek milk and Barossa Fine Foods smallgoods to create the soups, salads and sandwiches on its menu.
The café also serves a selection of pastries made by Vasilevski’s grandmother in her home kitchen.
“My grandma is Macedonian and she’s been baking a long time – making things like zeppoles and cannolis.
“She’s also making our brioche-type toast and I’ll make the granola which will be served with Paris Creek yoghurt.”
Vasilevski says his aim is to create a “community-based shop” welcoming of anyone in need of a coffee or food fix.
“Some guys are having a rough [day] out there, that’s why every day I’ll mark off a free coffee for every five sold.
“At the end of the day we’re going to get our staff to grab anything that we have left over and put it on a board and give it out to anyone who is in need.
“If you come in and you’ve forgotten your wallet we’re not going to say, ‘Oh nah, we’re not giving you your coffee today’; we’ll just say, ‘You can fix us up tomorrow’.”
Vasilevski agrees this could be a risky business model, but says he hopes to make the shop a place where everyone can enjoy local produce.
For me, it’s not about making millions it’s about doing what I love
After just a couple of days in business, he is already planning a second venture, likely to be located in the Adelaide CBD.
“It will still be The Meat & Cheese Club but it will be a bit more of a hub.
“It will be a bigger space, [with] more dining and it will involve some sit down, with still great meat, cheese and coffee but also some great Barossa Valley wine.”
When asked if he considers his work ethic to be different from that of the average 19-year-old, Vasilevski is reluctant to gloat.
“I think everyone has a hardworking ethic – it’s just about being able to get an idea and have a goal and once you’ve got that goal trying to reach it to the best of your ability.
“For me, it’s not about making millions, it’s about doing what I love.”
The Meat and Cheese Club is located at shop 6/82 King William Street, with its entrance off Grenfell Street.
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