“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
Jess Moussi and Malia Sloman are testament to Ghandi’s wisdom. They have managed to not only provide an openhearted service to those that have the pleasure of walking through the Brother Alec doors; but have also discovered their true calling. Jess and Malia met while studying music at university, and what began as a passing joke, evolved into a rock solid partnership. Malia originally called the café “From Scratch”, and Jess would pop in daily for her caffeine fix, while exchanging thoughts on music projects. When Malia light-heartedly suggested Jess should become a co-owner (who may I add, comes from a family of hospitality veterans), it was an irrefutable proposition. Five years on, and the pair have breathed new life into this High Street sanctuary, while maintain the vibe locals have come to cherish.
I’m not alone when I say visiting Brother Alec is not like any other café in Melbourne- and I don’t say that lightly. Over 5 years ago I made a fleeting visit here while navigating my way through the northern suburbs, and I remember pondering who Brother Alec was. An evangelist, or monk perhaps? Or was he a Sufi that played a role in bringing coffee to the new world? No, he may not be a member of any religious order- but the Brother that inspired this Thornbury café is a human worthy of reverence. Long story short, Alec is the younger brother of Malia, who is affectionately referred to as Brother Alec by his family in Seattle. The sentimentality inherent to this charming café doesn’t stop there, and is as rich as the espresso that flows from the Linea Classic. It’s been the location where Jess’ now husband proposed to her, and a dream realised for Jess’ late father who decorously put his faith into his daughter’s aspirations. It really is more than a café- it’s a spiritual home for two of Thornbury’s most adored café operators, and everyone fortunate enough to call it their local.
At the heart of Brother Alec is the ethos that service is paramount. I watched as customers were greeted like friends, children raced to the counter for hugs, and regulars dropped in to pick up a coffee, carton of eggs, loaf of bread, or readymade dinner; while others sat with their laptops and worked at their second home. Brother Alec has nurtured this close knit community, and it’s not just the customers who are treated with care. Staff are equally valued as members of the Brother Alec family- from Dishy Dave who’s been with them for 5 years, right through to charming Jackson who welcomes you with the brightest of smiles upon arrival.
“It’s important to enjoy being at work; making coffee can become repetitive, so it’s the people that make it great. We have to be able to enjoy each other”, Jess proudly emphasised.
The café recently underwent renovations, where old grey floor tiles were replaced with timber flooring, a front window bench was installed, timber shelves were fitted to the side wall, and eclectic furniture was exchange for green vinyl industrial style chairs, and blonde wood tables. The rear of the premises was converted into a spacious courtyard, and decorated with lush plants that soak up the suns rays. They also went from cooking solely on electric, to having gas in the kitchen. A much welcomed addition.
When it comes to coffee, Brother Alec has championed the Espresso Syndicate brand since the day they opened, and pride themselves in the strong relationship they have with their coffee roaster.
“Over the past 6 years, Syndicate have never once taken their foot off the pedal, and have travelled on our journey with us”. Their house blend is made up of beans from Brazil Fazenda Santa Alina, Ethiopia Mormora, Colombia, Nicaragua Las Brisas , and Guatemala Nuevo Oriente. It produces a cup with hazelnut and caramel flavours, and a generous body. Batch brew is also available, and the current single origin from Finca Tono (Costa Rica) has a juicy body, with red grape and panela sweetness.
The menu offers delicious Middle Eastern and American inspired dishes. Head chef Michael Bennet comes to Brother Alec with a fine dining background, having worked at Hellenic Williamstown, and previous to that in France. All day options include Coconut Porridge with poached pear, toasted seeds & saffron syrup; Grilled Parmesan and Sage Polenta; Smashed Pumpkin; and the house favourite – Huevos Rancheros, which is a tortilla filled with black beans and scrambled eggs, and topped with grilled cheese and green salsa. House made condiments, take home meals, and other kitchen essentials are all available on the shelves; while hugs are also on the menu.
Whether you’re stepping in for a minute, or staying for the afternoon, Brother Alec will always welcome you with a warm embrace.
719 High Street