Food and Drink
Posted by Steph Wade
18. Mar, 2013
Childhood friends Mario Minichilli and Vincent Conti, ex-owners of Inker7 in St Kilda and co-producers of Prana Chai Tea, have just opened Merchants Guild, a new cafe already being dubbed at the St Ali of tea.
Situated in East Bentleigh in a former $2 shop for many years; Merchants Guild’s main attribute (other than the food, coffee and tea) is the fit out, an ode to Minichilli and Conti’s Italian backgrounds.
With a small helping hand, the boys completed the fit out themselves, which sees concrete floors, bare white walls, wooden tables and chairs and an industrial metal theme with hanging lights; which accustoms the chai blending facilities at the back of the café. Chai is made daily and sold by the kilogram, and coffee is on rotation: currently the blend hails from Omar & the Marvellous Coffee Bird, in Gardenvale.
“Like St Kilda eight years ago, there was sort of nothing around Bentleigh that was cool, and unlike a dismissive South Yarra café, we wanted to provide something special that’s not readily available – where people can come and feel warm, welcome and included”, he tells us.
It’s clear this mantra is playing out accordingly, as people queue out the door on a Saturday morning waiting for a coffee, a bite to eat or one of their in-house brewed chai. Palpable is the boys’ obsession with tea, as is their preoccupation with great coffee and gourmet produce.
“From working in St Kilda for so long, we got an idea of the type of food that customers are really after,” says Davies. “I have friends who are gluten free and I’m trying to stick to being vegetarian myself, so we’ve made sure there are plenty of options on the menu to accommodate.”
Although you’ll see the usual classic staples, the menu digresses slightly from the traditional Melbourne brunch in favour of alternative tastes with nods to all corners of the earth: Mexican, Vietnamese, Italian, American and Spanish-styled options, to name a few.
Conti’s favourite is the sweet pea and fetta Spanish sardines, on rye with lemon and herb ($14) while Davies has a soft spot for the hard polenta biscuit with eggs, pumpkin, feta, harissa and za’atar ($15).
There’s something for every taste at Merchants Guild; you might just find yourself migrating outwards or downwards in search of a cheerful, community experience.
680 Centre Road
Open daily from 7am – 4.30pm
Visit their website themerchantsguild.com
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