The Little Ox is basically a crash course in how to run a successful cafe. It’s Saturday morning and it’s been a big week. I’m starving and Yuri drags me to Brighton to check out this cafe. I’m thinking, “Seriously? You want me to go all the way to Brighton for breakfast when there’s perfectly good cafes right near our house?” and he’s going, “Just trust me.”
So we get here and of course there are masses of people standing in the sun, waiting for a table. I am basically ready to turn around and go right back, get into the airconditioned car and drive off in search of eggs. Yuri calmly asks the nearest waiter, “Do you have a table for two?” She says, “Sure do. Give me five minutes.” She hands us menus and we wait while she works out where to put us.
Lesson Number One: No matter how busy you are, make new customers feel welcome.
Ahh, I love it when it works. Our table only takes a minute, and we sit down in the shade, near a massive brown labrador who’s panting in the heat. He looks hopeful and friendly. I think, I really want a dog of my very own. Yuri says, “Aw, I really want a dog.” Which is why I love him.
Anyway the waiter brings coffee, and we take a look at the great menu. The staff seem young and local but very competent. Coffee is good and makes me feel slightly more human – but only slightly. The menu is freaking sensational. Yuri orders a kind of pea and mint bruschetta with a poached egg and a side of bacon. I go for the “breakfast mezze plate” – poached egg, labne, dukkah, hummus, quinoa, chilli, with a mass of flat bread. But there’s a bunch of nice-looking “safe” options too – your standard bacon and eggs, granola, etc – alongside the more avant garde options.
Lesson Number Two: Be original and creative with your food. But not too original and creative – the Brighton nannas aren’t necessarily ready to have their worlds shook up just yet.
Anyway Brighton sure is nice, all leafy and sunny. There doesn’t seem to be another cafe for miles. The place is full of locals and regulars who tie up their bikes next to the chocolate lab. Gaw he’s so friendly! I really want a dog.
Lesson Number Three: Location, location. Choose a place in a nice residential area to ensure a loyal crowd of punters – businesspeople grabbing takeaways on the way to work, SINK/DINKs out for Sunday brunch, stay at home mums bringing their kids here during the week.
Breakfast takes a while to arrive but I don’t really mind, although I am getting a bit hangry. At around the forty minute mark I start wondering where it is. They are busy though so I think, no biggie, and go back to discussing the Labor leadership spill with Yuri. At around the one-hour mark Yuri goes, “I’m hungrrryyyyy” which means it really has been a long time.
I get up and grab our waitress. “Hi, we ordered about an hour ago and our food hasn’t arrived.”
She looks worried. “I’m so sorry, I’ll just find out for you.”
Five seconds later she returns. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t put the order in. It’s entirely my mistake. We can do it for you in five minutes if that’s OK.”
Lesson Number Four: Own your mistakes. Customers are usually pretty reasonable people; we understand that mistakes happen. She was very apologetic and they were very busy – you can see how these things slip through the cracks. Sure, it’s not ideal, but five minutes later we have fresh plates of food and two complimentary coffees.
All is forgiven. Choc lab stands up and looks expectant. And by expectant I mean adorable. Awww. Can we keep him? We really need to move somewhere with a yard. We discuss the ethics of feeding someone else’s dog. (Yuri says it’s a no go, so I put down the bacon rind and apologise to Puppy.)
My food is delicious. And I guess the cardinal rule of opening a cafe is:
Lesson Number Five: Just nail the food. And the coffee. If your product is great, it will sell itself.