Opening a new cafe is never easy. Opening a new cafe in the middle of winter is even harder. So while everyone was pretty much getting ready to hibernate for the colder months, Ryan Cassidy was putting the finishing touches on his new place Poke the Bear in Northcote. Cassidy’s father flew over from Perth to help him set up, spending 12 hour days converting the space to reflect Ryan’s love of Bali using vibrant colours and textures, but most importantly, creating a culture of good food, coffee and service.
Cassidy has been in the Melbourne cafe scene for many years, starting at Leroy in St Kilda before heading around the corner to Galleon, then running Truman in Albert Park and Veruca Salt in Elwood. This is his very first venture on his own and a natural progression for someone like Cassidy, with an old school approach to hospitality who has always wanted to look after his customers.
Similarly wanting to take the next step and start a new business were Jono Hill and Hootan Heydari, when they opened Wide Open Road Coffee back in 2009. With extensive experience in the industry, they had been operating their cafe A Minor Place in Brunswick since 2004; but being in control of their coffee was the missing piece of the puzzle and at that time in Melbourne, they believed there was room for another coffee brand. They established the on-site café which serves their coffee as well as awesome food, and slowly their coffee started appearing at other cafes wanting to be part of the Wide Open Road story.
Wide Open Road’s “what you see is what you get” mentality is all about transparency from crop to cup, passing on all information about the coffee and where it’s from to the customer. They also encourage customers to stop by to see what they do, to meet the roasters and ask any questions they may have about the coffee.
Ryan had been friends with Hill for over ten years, a friendship kindled around the time the third wave of boutique coffee roasters hit Melbourne. Everyone became obsessed with a lighter-roasted, fruity style and Ryan, who preferred his coffee more rich and robust with chocolatey caramel notes, became involved with the creation of Wide Open Road’s Shady Lane blend, which he now uses at Poke The Bear.
Beans from Indonesia, Tanzania and Colombia have been selected especially, resulting in a dark cherry/chocolate profile and a bold, sweet cup with mild acidity that’s great with milk (or milk substitutes). This is perfect for Ryan’s clientele, who don’t drink a lot of black coffee – however, the blend works well as an espresso and as a piccolo as well.