Thursday, 25 October 2018


Frank’s is one of our favourite F words. Behind the doors of this unsuspecting Cheltenham cafe swells a maelstrom of BHE (big hospo energy). Its namesake is the art of simplicity, and the seemingly easy but oft-forgotten knack of plating up authentic, unadulterated, and truly frank (GEDDIT?) nosh.

Sure, influencers get around the lofty, blonde timber interiors as they model a grain salad, and its Instagram is by no means understated. BUT, when it comes to cafe courtship, Frank’s reminds us that chivalry is indeed alive.  

Built upon the fundamentals of good people, great conversation and glorious coffee, these guys have striven to make a hangout where people know each other’s names, memorise your ritualised large-extra-hot-strong-soy-latte order and offer quality fare. The ingredients are localised, the most common phrase you’ll here at the coffee kit is ‘g’day Peter, just the usual?’ and the staff are engaged in real discussions with real customers. The veritable cherry on top has to be its senior Walking Team (yep) that dons bespoke, sexy Frank’s tees, goes for sun-doused strolls and caps their sessions with a good feed at HQ. Essentially, pass over an application form because we’re infiltrating this rn.

It’s all coming up community at Frank’s. Today, we accost Harry Butler - the man behind this unparalleled cafe-cum-home.

image credit: @theedibleimage

image credit: @franksmelbourne
Give us a history lesson in how Frank's came about?
Basically, I'm a qualified carpenter with a business/marketing background that was saving up for a house, and came across what I believed was an under-utilised pocket of Cheltenham. I put my savings into the fit-out and just like that, Frank's was born.

Was this your first venture into the gastronomy world?
First serious project. I have a little private catering company called Corn Boss that was basically just a hobby/passion business for extra money I did on the weekends while building. I also had a stall at Meredith Music Festival called Little Champs, which was my first food concept, and was basically mini sandwiches.

Melbourne's cafe culture is more saturated now than ever. How do you stay relevant?
Long story short is build a local business for the locals. It's not about what I like, it's about what our local market like. That, and don't try to be the next "Flash-in-the-pan" with a stupid doughnut burger or spaghetti taco. No one cares. Simple food done well is the go. Build a genuine offering.

So many cafes rely heavily on their social media to drive their customer influx. How do you temper this so that barista banter, ritualised morning conversations and long lasting relationships with locals aren't compromised?
Your regulars and genuine customers don't give a f*ck about instagram. Yes, it's a necessary part of doing business these days, but not ahead of building genuine relationships in my opinion. The industry has seen a few "insta famous" venues fold, which reinforces my theory that there's only one true measure of success in business (and that's your bottom line). If you start to put your ego ahead of that and focus on being popular on the internet instead of building a genuine business/offering/relationship, then you're compromising your entire business.

What exactly makes Frank's a cafe with a difference?
I don't necessarily believe we are a cafe with a difference, or at least we shouldn't be. We're just a suburban cafe with a nice fit-out, but nothing over the top. We've got good food, good coffee and good service. There is definitely an art to getting that right, but it's not like we've got some secret recipe. We just genuinely care about our customers and staff and that shines though I guess.

What does the word 'hospitality' mean to you?
I've never really given it much thought, but I believe whether it's a massage, silver service dining, or just a simple morning coffee, people are exchanging their money for your service. If you own a service business, it's in your best interest to make that service/experience as good as you can whilst still making money. Simple.

Do you think Instagram is a help or a hindrance to the preservation of 'good hospitality'?
I think the game in changing and there is now a split across the industry. There's still plenty of places that aren't on Instagram, that are a more basic offering for a more basic clientele. Then you have the places that try to be part of that "insta hospo" crowd, and the two almost aren't competing as their such different markets. Insta, for us, is a help, as it's a way for us to engage our staff, regulars and other locals. But we're very aware what we want out of it. I don't care how many followers we have, or how many likes we get, we just want our crowd to be able to follow our journey and feel apart of what we do.

Tell us a bit about Frank's Walking Team. Why do you do it?
John Reid, the walking team captain (lol), came to us and said there was a small group that lived in a retirement village up the road that loved going for a walk on a Friday and finishing for a coffee at Frank's. Why wouldn't we do it?!?! All we did was pay for the t-shirts and look after them when they arrive on a Friday. They get so much joy out of it, and it just goes back to us genuinely caring about our community. We make no money out of it, but they make Frank's a better place.

How important is it to stay 'real' in this industry? Do you think a lot of fellow small foodie businesses are somewhat 'selling out' in the age of influencer marketing, showpony dishes, and hot pink lattes?
One of our core values at Frank's was "genuine doesn't care about being cool". It's important for us to "Stay Real", but there are plenty that don't and have success, and there are plenty that do and fail. Everyone thinks running a cafe would be fun/easy/a great lifestyle, but it's far from the truth. You have to get the balance of so many varying factors right, all at the same time, with "staying real" being just one. It's important for us, but I'm not saying it's essential for everyone.

Who are your cafe crushes right now? What other cafes/businesses/brands do you draw inspiration from?
Humble Creatures is great. The Left Handed Chef is great as well. They're not insta places, but place that I feel are genuine with great food. That's just me personally though. I'm absolutely obsessed with RAMBLR. I also LOVE Hectors Deli.

And with that concludes #2. If you’re reading this at 11:35 at night with an irrational desire for brunch, I’m sorry. Go to sleep and pull up a chair at Frank’s tomorrow. If F45 isn’t your bag, also flag a mental note to get on that Walking Team, stat.

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