Babajan is a café destination in Melbourne’s inner north rapidly making a name for itself. It’s proudly perched on a corner of Nicholson Street, North Carlton and offers the kind of generous Middle Eastern fare and Code Black coffee that keeps customers coming back for more. We sat down with owner Kirsty Chiaplias to discuss some of the highlights of the first year of Babalan’s story.
What is it about your business that has made it so successful?
Creativity. We work really well and creatively together. That support has driven the business. It’s been just over a year and it’s been pretty crazy… sometimes it’s a lot to manage.
We’ve stuck to our guns on our direction and we’ve had lots of positive media, which has been really amazing. (Babajan was named top breakfast spot in Broadsheet recently).
What do you like the most about working with your team?
The team is much bigger than in my last business. I try to keep everyone having a good time, with really good energy. I’m proud that it feels like we’re all a family even though we’ve grown a lot.
Everyone really understands and appreciates the concept and loves the food. So we just try to keep the energy up. Because we’re working hard, sometimes crazy hard, but we’re also having a good time.
You seem to have been embraced by the local area here at Nicholson Street, North Carlton. Typically there aren’t a lot of new hospitality venues opening up here and making such an impact. How have you found the response so far?
We’re in one of those work-in-progress streets. Weekends are really busy and any day can be really unpredictable. Driving community is a big part of the Babajan ethos. I use suppliers from the street and instead of a coffee card, we do a VIP neighbourhood card.
So I believe that to connect with the area is important so they understand what you’re doing and feel like they’re a part of it. This is like their ‘hood, and we’ve come in and have started something new so we really want their support. Everyone was really happy for us to be here once they saw the food and what we’re doing.
What’s been your favourite Babajan experience so far?
There was an event we did for a friend to support their bike ride to raise funds for dementia research. It was a special night, my Dad performed, we had prizes and a giveaway, and a real party atmosphere with guests from the local area and other traders from the street. There was music and food and everyone made some great connections.
Otherwise, there have been a few record days in the business where we’ve surprised ourselves and popped a bottle of champagne after closing.
What do you try to achieve through presentation, uniforms and design through the café?
Having uniforms and consistent branding — it’s important for the customer to know who they’re going up to and ordering from. I don’t like going into places where you can’t tell because it’s so messy.
I like uniforms to look smart but still relaxed. Even our t-shirts are understated, with just a soft gold logo on the back. We like to keep it simple but still noticeable. It gives a bit of pride to the team and helps them to feel a part of something.
What’s your perfect after-work drink?
The one that’s on our menu now is called the Mount Ananas — I never drink rum but it’s really good. It has burnt pineapple, crème de menthe and coconut cream. You would never think it could taste so amazing but shaken up together it’s really yummy and refreshing.