By Julie Anne Longano
After taking possession from the previous owner of Jerry’s Milk Bar in January this year, new owners Jordy, Nick and Oliver are humble and undeniably a little giddy about reopening the doors to this much loved Melbourne icon.
The owner’s youthful energy suggests they might have been standing at a milk bar ordering a $2 bag of of mixed lollies not too long ago themselves – but they’ve now made their way to the other side of the counter and are proudly asserting that Jerry’s is back for the community.
As an Elwood local who lives close-by, co-owner Jordy explained the vision as being driven through necessity.
“I saw that it needed some love, there are a lot of homes and residents in this part of Elwood and it was clearly under-catered for good coffee in a nice warm café… without having to get in your car.” Dubbed ‘the brains’ of the ownership trio, Jordy wants Jerry’s to be a place where the community can come together.
“We’re hopeful that people feel really comfortable here – it’s the kind of place you’ll come in and see someone you know every time, we’re ultimately a community café and in the long run we want to be the place people stop off first thing in the morning and then again at the end of the day.”
After hitting their straps in opening-week and graciously accepting the support from eager locals (who ‘operations guy’ Nick describes as being “so good” and highly positive), the owners are bringing their hospitality experience from across the city and interstate in their strategy for the bigger plans that are underway.
“We’ve sought approval for outdoor seating to be added down the side street near the service window (Meredith Street)… over the next few months the area out the back will be fitted out specifically for parents with kids during café hours and then have a simple, quality seafood based vibe in the evening.”
On the pressure of taking the keys for this icon, the owners are respectful and humble, with Nick saying, “There was absolutely never a question of whether we should keep the name or not, I don’t even think we discussed it to be honest… a venue like this naturally comes with a lot of pressure and weight, but we were confident we could take it in a fresh direction, modernise it and work closely with Jerry’s actual family, specifically his niece and nephew, to bring back its history as a community destination.”
With community being the essence of a milk bar, it’s a part of the café’s soul that the owners are embracing rather than shying away from.
“We’re in the process of bringing in historical photos of Jerry, adding things back like the original lolly machine, and modelling our offering on the original ‘milk bar out front oysters out back’ style.”
Certainly they have felt the local pressure and concern about taking the previously quirky and eclectic venue in a different direction, with some locals crossing their fingers that “the new Jerry’s” wasn’t going to be too gentrified. Of this, Jordy is confident in their approach.
“I think there’s a difference between revistalising a café and gentrifying a café, people jump at the word gentrification when they see tiles going up somewhere – we’re not trying to be something we’re not; we’ve considered the neighbourhood and local families at every point, we’re anything but pretentious and we just want people to be really comfortable here.”
Now that’s all lovely and well but we know locals and visiting customers alike are primarily concerned with one thing. The quality of the coffee. That’s where ‘the serious one’ comes in, co owner Oliver is serious about coffee. He was reluctantly pulled away from the coffee machine, obsessively perfecting a customer’s latte, for this article’s photograph. “Our vision was born from the need for a decent coffee and so, critically, we need to stand by that… stand for that.”
The jovial dynamic and long-standing-relationship between the three owners is clear and will undoubtedly add a new found essence of warmth, interest and unique eccentricity to ‘the new’ Jerry’s Milk Bar – which, for so many, is at the heart of this café’s soul.