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Hybrid hair salon and café serves food with community spirit

The Forager

From the get-go it was an unusual business idea – combining a hair salon with a fully functioning café – but Surreal Hair & Eats ended up becoming much more than that when it took on a community garden too.

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“For me it’s a combination of everything,” Surreal Hair & Eats co-owner Nick Ciacciarelli tells InDaily.

“I did take a gamble with this but you know what? If I didn’t take that gamble I would always be wondering what could have happened.”

Ciacciarelli is a keen gardener and foodie, but he’s worked in the hair styling industry most of his life.

He opened his first hair salon in Felixstow with his wife and fellow hair stylist Toni when he was 20-years-old. In the intervening 30 years since then, the couple moved the business from Burnside Village to Kensington Road, before finally settling into their current premises on The Parade at Kensington in November last year.

“My wife and I went to Melbourne about two years ago and when we were there we saw a salon-café, which my wife immediately fell in love with,” Ciacciarelli says.

“When we came back to Adelaide she asked the question if we could do it here and I said to her no way, it was a crazy idea.

“I kind of changed my mind though when this location came up. I used to drive past here everyday and what sold it automatically was the place. It overlooks everything, people love sitting out on the terrace, be seen on The Parade, it’s close to schools and there’s a good community around it.”

What sealed the deal was the backing of close friend Dominic Barilla, a former hairdresser who had since switched to the hospitality industry and who agreed to take on the role as café manager at the Ciacciarelli’s new salon.

Surreal Eats manager Dominic Barilla. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

“As much as Nick was scared at the start, I was never scared,” Barilla says.

“When people see that we’re both a hairdressing salon and a café, at first they’re shocked and they’re asking us how we do it, but it goes back to the old theory: you get your hair done, your hairdresser tells you to go somewhere and you listen to them – they’re like a trusted adviser.

“If the clientele supports the hairdresser and the hairdresser also happens to work for a café, it’s a no-brainer – the clientele will also go to the café.

“The café has now outgrown the clientele and now it stands on its own as a successful-running business in its own right.”

According to Ciacciarelli, Surreal Hair & Eats’ success lies in the building design.

The building – which used to house a day spa – had to undergo a major renovation to create the two separate sides of the business.

The back of the building houses the hair salon – a glossy white space adorned with mirrors and polished concrete. A glass door separates the salon from the front-facing café, which is painted in darker hues and which opens onto a large deck overlooking The Parade and a community garden.

The hair salon side of the business… Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

“Obviously you’ve got to keep the food and the hair separate,” Ciacciarelli says.

“But what works is that people come to the café, see that we’re also a hairdressers and then they want to get their hair done then and there.

“There’s a flow and instead of sending them down the street to a different building we’re literally just sending them to the other room.”

… and the café side of the business. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

Ciacciarelli describes Surreal Eats’ menu as comprising “a good Italian rustic style of food that tastes like it comes straight from nonna’s kitchen”.

Breakfast offerings include classics such as smashed avocado, bircher muesli, pancakes and omelettes with the addition of Italian specialties including baked eggs with sauce.

For lunch, the café offers smaller meals such as focaccias and piadinas as well as larger portions of lasagne, gnocchi ragu and a selection of pasta dishes.

The drinks list features local South Australian wines with an Italian flavour – including McLaren Vale label Serafino’s Tempranillo and Pinot Grigio blends as well as what Barilla says is “Adelaide’s cheapest Aperol Spritz special” at two for $15.

Surreal Eats’ gnocchi ragu. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

But it’s the community garden that Ciacciarelli appears most passionate about.

The small but well-maintained garden grows an impressive selection of fruit and vegetables, which are then made available to the public for a donation to the “honesty box”.

Ciacciarelli says so far the community garden has raised more than $2000 for the Hutt Street Centre.

“You’ve got to help the community out and I thought about it and I was asking myself, how am I going to see my father more? He’s 83 and I said to myself, if I grow the charity garden I could see him two or three times a week, because he’s a really keen gardener too, and then I could also give back to the community.

“At the moment there’s not much colour out there because it’s winter but in summer we have basil, chillies, tomatoes, pumpkin, cucumbers, beans.

“If we run out of basil in the kitchen we’ll come out here and pick it in the summer time; if we run out of something like lemons we’ll just come out, so it’s nice to have in that sense.”

The community garden outside Surreal Hair & Eats. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

Ciacciarelli plans to expand the garden to include more fruit trees and a garden shed on the council land outside the café once he receives council permission.

He also plans to add to the café exterior’s already eclectic bric-a-brac decorative style – featuring what he says has become an iconic upside down antique café sign, empty milk bottles, rusty watering cans and an old lawnmower.

“By the time I’m done the whole outside wall will be full of bric-a-brac,” he says.

“If you want to feel good coming to work you have to have that quirkiness otherwise you’ll get bored.”

Ciacciarelli describes the exterior decorative style as “quirky”. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

Asked if he sees the hybrid café-hair salon model kick off, Ciacciarelli says time will tell if other’s catch onto the idea.

“I’ve been asked to duplicate it elsewhere but we’re just fresh at the moment. I’m still finding my feet because it’s grown that fast that I’m still just trying to handle everything.

“We have some interesting ideas for the future – maybe doing a little bit of night-time work, doing some interesting things for dinners or whatnot.

“The demand is there so we’d definitely like to act on it.”

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