Coffee, comfort and companionship
Café supervisor Sheridan Mills tells how serving coffee and food to customers at the social enterprise Fifty-Six Threads Café helps him build friendships and gives him insight into human nature.
“A young couple (originally from Adelaide) come in every day and order two large lattes with no sugar (he secretly gets a sausage roll on weekend mornings while she is teaching her yoga class).
One lady has lost her sense of smell and likes food with strong flavours like the curries we sometimes make – which she orders to pick up for her special weekend lunch.
Another lady has recently become a widow; she lost her husband last year – a man who was involved with the North Melbourne football club. I often talk to her about the North’s weekly results when I see her and sometimes even barrack for them on the side – just for her. She has a small skinny hot latte with no sugars.
A Sudanese man comes in with his wife and three children, he teaches Arabic studies in the nearby buildings on weekends. He has a small latte with one-and-a-half sugars and his wife a weak extra hot cappuccino; their three kids have babycinos.
There’s a Chinese lady who comes in with her old and grey father every weekend. They sit and drink a coffee together even though he barely says a word. She smiles a lot. They have two lattes with no sugar.
A Vietnamese lady comes in every weekend to meet her Thai friend. They talk to each other in English as they can’t understand each other in their native languages. They sometimes make mistakes but then bridge cultural-linguistic barriers by laughing at each other – it is very cute. I’ve also had to teach them how to use the wireless internet feature on their smartphones. I joke and say I’m your friendly coffee/IT guy to which they laugh of course. The Vietnamese lady has a daughter who just gave birth to a baby boy, they have a soy cappuccino and a regular latte with one sugar.
Then there’s Johnny. Johnny has lived in this building for more than a decade and has seen the whole area change and develop in front of his eyes, including seeing the old milk bar that was here before it was converted into the Fifty-Six Threads Café that it is today.
He likes his coffee with a double shot in the mornings. His friend from the building and a mother of two usually sits out the front with her little girls who like to carry handbags while wearing ballet dresses (or any dresses). She is from Tasmania and moved to Geelong but now lives here in the apartments. She has a hot chocolate.
There’s another couple who like to come in to see me on weekends. They have a large and a small soy flat white; he just got a job after a month’s lay-off. I fed him coffee and muffins every day while he was out of work. His Filipino wife works in the community services and likes reading all the little stories in the paper while he navigates the news on his smartphone.
There are some new mums/couples that come in with their new-born babies each week. There’s one lady from New Zealand and her Irish husband, and, an Italian lady with her Laotian husband – all mixed-marriages.
I’ve seen their kids grow before my eyes every week, watching their first steps and hearing their first words: ‘yum, yum, yum’ – which I absolutely love. They have a large skinny latte and a large soy latte, a babycino, a large latte with two sweeteners and a large skinny latte and a babycino. “One of the best babycinos in town” is how they describe it.
There’s a man who comes in every weekend just to get the free TV guide, if it’s here, and buys a 2.5 litre container of milk. There’s another elderly man who pushes his upright walking chair/trolley into the café to buy milk. I have to come around from behind the counter and put the milk in his little pop up seat for him for which he always says thank you at least two-to-three times earnestly.
There’s an Ethiopian lady who is in a wheelchair who loves strong skinny lattes and whose carers come and speak with me every week; and another man from across the street who comes in for his large cappuccino with a half a sugar whose beloved brother just passed away – which felt like my own brother and made me very sad.
Then there’s my first customer every day, a man who lives in the buildings adjacent to the café who comes in every morning not to buy himself a coffee, but another elderly gentleman who lives in the nearby flats. The man’s previous carer isn’t working with him anymore and so my customer felt he would pick up the duty of getting him his daily coffee before he is moved to a retirement home.
These are just some of the people I know, love and share my time with at the Fifty-Six Threads Café.”
Located in Derby Street Kensington, not far from the bustling Macaulay Road, Fifty-Six Threads café is AMES’ second social enterprise, which has enabled many migrants in the local community to gain training and employment.