It’s early autumn, the coffee machine is humming and there’s a positive feel in the room as yet another packed-lunch service begins at Benalla’s Rustik Café & Foodstore. From its humble café beginnings, this Victorian High Country eatery has grown into a microeconomic powerhouse, supporting a wide range of local and national premium food producers. Similar to the mid-twentieth-century independent corner grocer or milk bar, co-owner Julie Brown is reviving the concept of a quality boutique shopping experience within her café environment, to the delight of locals. It’s a business focus that’s also managing to change the way clientele consider what they’re consuming within their daily diets.
‘I think we’re going back to our old roots,’ explains Julie, who operates Rustik with her mother Ida Schwind. ‘Victoria Market (Melbourne) was massive for my grandparents, and a lot of fruit and veg was also grown at home. When I was a kid we didn’t hear about kids who had diabetes. I think there must be a connection between mass-produced, processed foods and poor health. There’s got to be a reason why one in five people have cancer, and that so many kids are overweight.’
Rustik opened in December 2013 with a foundation of menus crafted from only fresh, natural foods; however, in recent years this focus has been tightened. The result has been a staggering improvement in café food quality, matched by an increase in customer loyalty. Grocery items such as artisan breads, dairy, fermented pickles and vegetables, as well as condiments and vegan products, can be purchased to take home and enjoy.
‘We’ve set ourselves a mission to only work with and sell good, wholesome foods and we’re so lucky,’ says Julie. ‘There are so many wonderful food producers so close to us. My head chef Paul (Koulis) and I now frequently do road trips around the region to meet with farmers and producers. We’re now using honey from Walkabout Apiaries in Milawa, Gamze smoked meats from Wangaratta, local Good Lookin’ Googies (eggs from Dookie) and quality, naturally processed foods like JimJam Foods’ jams, pickles and preserves, Raglan (brand) vegan coconut, dairy-free paleo yogurt, Garlicious Grown black garlic and powders, and most recently Molly and Rob Booth’s Salus Bakery breads, also from Wangaratta. Now what we’re doing is sharing our produce, 90 percent of which is local.
Julie and Ida started Rustik at a time when Julie was researching alternative dietary choices in order to improve her health and daily energy levels. Further consultation with her doctor and other sources revealed how modern, highly processed grains can be highly inflammatory to our bodies. Fighting for positive change Julie removed gluten, dairy and grains from her diet, and is now focused on what is mostly a paleo diet. After many years of lacking energy and enduring daily body aches and pains, she has now recovered and looks a picture of health; I feel amazing’, she says.
Julie’s experience inspired her to call on her team to develop a highly flexible menu, catering to a wide range of differing dietary requirements. And, surprisingly, menu items can now be made interchangeable – meaning most can be quickly altered to suit gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian or vegan diets. Menu highlights include a super food brekky containing kale, spinach, avocado, asparagus, almonds, sunflower seeds, dukka, Tolpuddle goats’ cheese and a free range poached egg on paleo toast, multigrain or sourdough.
Price-wise, Julie says people are willing to pay a little more for a healthy product that they’re really going to enjoy. ‘If you know us and know what we’re about, you’re not going to expect a ten-dollar meal when you walk in the door. We’re not for everybody, but our point of difference is our success and this shows in our loyal patronage.
Main image (top): Rustik’s Super food brekky, with Kale, spinach, avocado, asparagus, almonds, sunflower seeds, dukka, Tolpuddle goats’ cheese free range poached egg on paleo, multigrain or sourdough toast
RUSTIK CAFÉ & FOODSTORE
28 Bridge Street, Benalla, Victoria
Tel 03 5762 4686