As Melbourne endures its sixth lockdown, most restaurateurs are just keeping their heads above water. But chef-restaurateur Shannon Martinez is going large, merging her two vegan businesses into one super-sized venue in November.
Flagship restaurant Smith & Daughters and its sandwich-slinging counterpart Smith & Deli, both currently based in Fitzroy, will unite under one roof in Collingwood. The generous warehouse-sized space is set off the main street; a "tricky spot", Martinez concedes. But she's confident it's a case of build it and they will come. The Smith & Daughters brand has built a loyal following of vegan and non-vegan diners since its 2014 inception; and this is, after all, the city of laneways, speakeasies and hole-in-the-wall joints.
The luxury of space, all 500 square metres of it, means for the first time the deli will have a dining-in option. It will feature a cafeteria set-up of cold and hot dishes, complete with a larder, carvery and rotisserie section, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.
"You grab a tray, put it down, slide it across, and someone serves you the food. It's like a really good version of a prison cafeteria," says Martinez. Or, the former Myer food hall in Melbourne's CBD, a nostalgic culinary memory from her childhood. "It was probably really shit, but when I was young it was fucking awesome." Just like the department store's dessert section, Martinez plans on serving her own versions of frog in a pond, and sweet pies by the slice.
The Smith & Daughters restaurant will also feature an open kitchen and a chef's table service; a production kitchen will allow the business to dispatch wholesale orders of its plant -based products.
Smith & Daughters has come a long way since its 2014 beginnings. Martinez and her then-business partner Mo Wyse had just $70,000 in start-up cash – their lean budget meant they were sanding off the logos from IKEA tables to furnish their dream restaurant. "It was very DIY, very grungy, and thank god Melbourne loves that shit," says Martinez.
Seven years on, and the grunge is getting a glow-up. With Resident Avenue and Rosa & Co Fitouts on-board for the design and build, the 2021 Smith & Daughters takes inspiration from Vivienne Westwood's '70s-era punk aesthetic, to her swashbuckling New Romantics collection in the '80s. "All these extras you could imagine are there. We've got chainmail, we've got tweed, tartan carpets," says Martinez.
The mega-venue is a bold chess move for Martinez. For the past 18 months she's not only battled the vagaries of COVID-19 and hospitality "pivots", but 24 rounds of chemotherapy and radiation too. Where other businesses are battling just to survive, she's chosen to up the ante.
"This is my version of coping," says Martinez. Planning the new venue was a distraction from her breast cancer treatment and a reason to get up in the morning. "I know it seems crazy, and I am very aware if this doesn't work out, I'm fucked. Right now Daughters and Deli are doing okay, but the only way I can see out of this is to make this move. It's either make or break for me."
The new Smith & Daughters is being billed as Australia's largest vegan hub, and for Martinez, it's a way of putting the country's growing vegan scene on the global map. "In the last five years the vegan food scene in this country has exploded [...] We're doing some cool shit over here," she says, pointing to the vegan dégustations offered at top-end restaurants such as Vue De Monde and the now-closed Momofuku Seiōbo.
To date Martinez has three Smith & Daughters cookbooks to her name, and 42 employees on the books. The soon-to-be opened new venue is another bullet point on Martinez's CV to disprove the doubters, the haters, and the ones who said a vegan-focused business couldn't – wouldn't – survive. "Australia has a [dislike] of tall poppies, but I really think Daughters and Deli have been an integral shift in the way we see vegan food in this country," she says. "And for that, I'm really proud."
The new Smith & Daughters is set to open in early November, 2021
107 Cambridge St, Collingwood Vic
107 Cambridge St, Collingwood Vic