From Nick Mathers, founder of Ruby’s, and the designer of restaurants like Dudley’s, Happiest Hours, not to mention Jimmy Kimmel’s LA home
What makes Australian cafes special?
With the sheer amount of cafes, particularly in Melbourne and Sydney, the competition drives standards. There is, of course, a huge focus on coffee quality and highlighting fresh produce, but what makes the Australian approach to cafes unique is that people tend to avoid corporate chains and will go out of their way to support local cafes that understand the neighbourhood and give back to the community as well. That same approach has always been our focus here in America, we love our locals and want to become a neighbourhood fixture that they know they can keep coming back to, time and time again, and know they will always get the same friendly staff and quality product. Like we always say, it’s just about creating a good vibe.
I’ll never forget the day back when we first opened Ruby’s, Lincoln, my business partner, and I were both in our early 20s. It was just a tiny little hole in the wall café and we were just a couple of younger surfer boys with long hair and a very vague idea about making coffee. The night before opening day, Lincoln and I had a very late night out and we had to open the restaurant. We dusted ourselves off, got down to Soho to open up, and there was a line out the door – Lincoln and I were running on zero sleep, by the way. I’m like “Oh my god I’m making coffees and we don’t have milk. Linc – you gotta go grab some milk I’ll make the coffees,” and he’s like “Yeah I got this.” He ran out to get the milk and never came back! He left me in a packed restaurant for one of the busiest days I’ve ever had. I’ve never wanted to kill someone more, he’s lucky we’re still mates now. I’m a forgiving guy.
My favourite spots in LA are the ones that take advantage of the amazing opportunities that California has to offer, namely the weather. I love going to places with outdoor patios, rooftops, courtyards, anywhere that highlights how nice it can be to sit outside in the sun and enjoy a meal or a drink.
Obviously my two favourite spots to spend time at are Goldie’s and The Eveleigh. I had a real focus with both spots on creating beautiful patio spaces where you could feel transported away from the hustle and bustle of LA. The Golden Girl at Goldie’s is my all-time favourite cocktail, hands down, no competition. It’s the perfect mix of sweet, spicy, creamy, everything good in life. At The Eveleigh, I love how all the produce comes from people who are thoughtful and passionate about sustainable farming and the chefs show the same respect in creating seasonal menus. My new favourite dish at The Eveleigh is the Chicken Schnitzel sandwich on the menu; I’ve always been a sucker for a great schnitzel sandwich.
Besides my own spots, I love going out to support fellow Aussies whenever possible. EP & LP is a local favourite of my mine; I love sitting back on their beautiful rooftop and watching the sunset with a cocktail in hand. Their rooftop is so good people sometimes forget about the restaurant underneath but trust me, it’s not to miss. People should go just to try Lou Dogg’s Crispy Skin Chicken, an Aussie chef’s signature dish that is quickly becoming famous around town.
Another Aussie café I love going to is the Paramount Coffee Project, I was always a big fan of their spots back home and now they’ve brought that next level of coffee quality right here to my neighbourhood. The Fizzy Ruby Iced Tea is perfect on a hot day as well, check it out.
Dudley’s and the new Dudley’s Deli are great examples of that passion for the neighbourhood I spoke about earlier. They look after locals, and in return the locals look after them. In the summer it’s so nice to sit inside with the open walls and just while away an afternoon with a nice breeze on your face and a cocktail in hand. The Deli does amazing roast chicken rolls, which are everywhere back home, but the Dudley’s Deli is the best I’ve found stateside for sure.
The Happiest Hour kind of says it all in the name as well, it’s just a really fun place to go with friends. The cocktail program is insanely good and the menu is full of great bar snacks at cheap prices. Anytime I’m in I have one of the burgers without fail, they are just so good.
One of the best parts about having run cafes here in New York for such a long time is that I’ve got to see a stream of young Australians who are passionate about hospitality come over and work with me. My favourite thing is seeing them learn and grow with you and then go on to do their own thing. Two Hands Café in the Lower East Side is the perfect example of that, I’m a huge fan of what they’re doing and they have great support amongst the local community. Rightly so, too, they do great food, great coffee, and they’re hands on with the place you’ll always see one of the owners working whenever you head in. They have a great acai bowl.