A Cafe for the Curious

Getting into Leake St Cafeteria is like being in a Harry Potter video game. It’s like trying to find some sort of mystical, elusive classroom in the Hogwarts castle, but less stressful (because you’re not running away from Voldemort, or Malfoy, or whatever), and more fun (because you know that there are muffins where you’re going).

There are at least four different ways you can get in, and they involve secret doorways, century-old back alleys, quirky staircases, creaky metal gates that will only open certain hours of the day, back doors that only open if you ask a staff member nicely and, in some cases, access codes without which you will find yourself locked out of your own building. The subtle little clues that a cafe actually exists within that tiny brick courtyard are easy to miss: a sign placed high above the footpath on a side street, or a little note at the bottom of a chalkboard, or an arrow slapped onto the side of a shelf of sauerkraut. The most popular way in is via Kakulas Sister, an iconic Fremantle deli, and this particular entry is the closest thing to Platform 9¾ that exists in the real world. Push your trolley around until you find what you thought was a solid brick wall, then walk straight through it.

A peek into the Leake St Cafeteria courtyard

Cooking: the key to conscious eating

I sat down one afternoon with Leake St Cafeteria owner, Wade Drummond, to do the interview (well, sort of – I stayed seated and fired questions at Wade in between him jumping out of his seat to make takeaway coffees for customers even though he was already closed). We talked about what needs to change in the food industry to make it a better place for everyone. We talked about what a wonderful world it would be if certain customers were a little more honest with their feedback and a little less sassy; about how, contrary to popular belief, the ultimate goal of most venues is to show their guests a good time; and about the recent cringeworthy phenomenon of “foodies” who have hopelessly misguided preconceptions of what their food should look or taste like (for example, the ridiculous #notcrispy PR disaster that went down last month on the internet).

When I asked him what everyday Australians can do to be more conscious consumers of food, he had a simple message.

Cook more. I’d love to see more people looking up recipes, going out to farmers markets, delis and butchers and making food themselves. Even if you’re in a supermarket, stick to the perimeter – your fresh fruit and vegetables, your meat, your dairy – and avoid going up and down the aisles of processed stuff. You’ll know more about what’s in the food you’re eating, you’ll be eating stuff that’s better for your health and you’ll save money that you can then spend at restaurants that serve good quality food. Not only that, but if you make time to cook once a week for your family and once a week for your friends, you’ll find a level of connection that you didn’t realise was missing. It’s incredible, the feeling you get from actually being able to provide something for people that you care about.

And for those of us out there who can’t cook to save their life? Wade offers the following advice:

Just make food! Who cares? Make mistakes and see what happens. If you’re inviting people over to eat, they’re not expecting perfection. And if they are, then they shouldn’t be your friends anyway. Some people just throw their hands in the air and go, ‘I can’t cook.’ Don’t be silly. Of course you can. I cook for a living, but I don’t have any special skills, I just do it a lot. I’ve burned that steak a hundred times and I’ve overcooked that piece of chicken a hundred times and now what you see is a result of all of those learning experiences.

A Dreamer and a Doer

Then came the question I’d been looking forward to asking the most: What the heck made you think that you could open this cafe in this impossible location and get away with it? He answered,

There’s just something about this space. I’d been coming to this deli every Sunday for about three years to do my grocery shopping, and I’d noticed that there are little moments throughout the day, in the morning and the afternoon, where there’s just this beautiful amount of light in this really quiet little space, and it just seemed like such a waste. The place where my kitchen is now was being used for storage. There were some milk crates and an ashtray in the courtyard where I’ve now got my tables, chairs and plants. I used to look at this empty space and say to myself, man … imagine how cool it would be to open something here. I’d just always been enthralled with it.

Wade wrote an email to Kakulas Sister asking if they’d ever considered opening a cafe out the back, and they replied saying they’d always wanted to do something but nothing had ever been initiated. Six weeks later, it was a done deal. Wade threw himself into his new venture and never looked back.

But it still didn’t make sense to me. I asked, didn’t people warn you that it was a terrible business decision, knowing you would get almost no walk-in traffic? The failure rate of cafes in Perth is astonishingly high. Foot traffic in Fremantle can be pretty scarce at times. At the very least, didn’t people tell you to open your cafe in a location that had a bit more exposure? Didn’t your friends and family doubt you? Didn’t you doubt yourself?

And then Wade went and dropped some truth bombs.

This is one thing I’ve always found interesting. Most people, whenever they warn you against following your dream, whatever it may be, they’ve got your best intentions at heart, but they don’t know diddly squat about what it is that you wish to create. And I think a lot of the time when people say you shouldn’t do something, or you can’t do something… they’ve never done it themselves, and they don’t actually know what they’re talking about. They put themselves in your position and they think: ‘Well, there’s no way I’d do it. Therefore, you shouldn’t do it either.’ But sometimes, you just need to back your own instincts and try it. And I’ve always looked at it and thought well, what’s the worst that could happen? You could lose a lot of money, and that’s pretty much it. You’re not gonna kill anyone, you’re not really gonna affect too many people and hopefully you’ll learn something and then you’ll go onto the next thing.

Leake St CafeteriaInside Kakulas, 31 Market St, Fremantle WA 6160

Opening Hours: Monday to Friday 7:30am – 3:30pm, Saturday 8:00am – 11:00am

 

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Belinda Teh

Belinda Teh is a freelance writer who is fascinated by the people who grow, make and serve the food we eat every day. She loves to write about real conversations with real people that inform and inspire. Although she is currently based in France, she will always call Fremantle home. Belinda’s other articles can be found on This is not a Food Blog.