Hyperlocal news about Melbourne's first suburb: Fitzroy 3065

banned from a cafe that does not exist


Fitzroyalty occasionally receives threats and other pointless forms of pathetic posturing from deluded self-congratulatory types. I’ve been banned from the Melbourne food bloggers Facebook page for refusing to consent to be censored when discussing the dubious practice of accepting freebies bribes in exchange for publishing positive reviews. I was falsely accused of publishing defamatory content by fashion shop Leonard St, which ironically could itself be considered defamatory.

In the past week various commenters have tried to suggest that I accept freebies from cafes, and that I am biased towards Slowpoke cafe and against a potential competitor that has not even opened (yet). I believe that the proprietors of the allegedly forthcoming Stencil cafe are simply attempting to get some attention and publicity, no matter how stupid they make themselves appear in the process. I’m playing along for as long as it continues to amuse me.

They initially sent me an email in June 2011 announcing that the cafe would soon open in the former premises of African Mix / Le Ha 3 on Brunswick St, and offering me free coffee in exchange for publicity. I declined the freebie and wrote about the cafe anyway.

A few days before I had reviewed the newly opened Slowpoke cafe a few doors north, and was impressed by it. I then waited for Stencil to open, but nothing happened. Then in January 2012 a sign for a different business appeared in the premises and it became obvious that Stencil was not opening there. I wrote about the hype in the PR email I had received and how bizarre it was. Then the trolling began.

The proprietors of Stencil have been disingenuous by claiming that ‘we have not had to re-consider’ despite acknowledging that they lost the original premises and that they are ‘moving to a spot on the same block’. Their negativity about their competitor Slowpoke is unprofessional – their comment ‘Check out Slowpoke if you want, they’re never open anyway’ is sarcastic and juvenile.

Today another email arrived. I presume it is tailored for publication as they now realise that PR emails sent to me are for public consumption. Their previous delusion that a PR email could be published, and would not be considered ‘personal’ or private, was apparently a difficult lesson to learn.

The email states:

Hi there,

The team here at Stencil have recently had a discussion about your article and poor behaviour regarding it. As a result of this we have decided to place a 6 month ban on you coming into the cafe when it opens up the road from the original planned location in just under a month’s time . However, you can work to over turn this ban with positive press on your blog. But as it stands it will be 6 months of not being allowed into the cafe or getting someone else to come in on your behalf so you can blog about it. Once the ban is up you are welcome to come in and PAY for your coffee or check out some of the fantastic artwork.

I trust this clears things up and I will notify you when the ban is up.

Kind regards
Phil and Christine
Stencil Cafe Team

My ‘poor behaviour’? It’s called journalism. It’s not my fault you sound ridiculous. You brought it on yourselves. Can’t you handle the truth?

Your ban won’t work. I doubt you know what I look like, so how will you know if I come in? You don’t know who my friends are, or what they look like, so you won’t be able to stop me asking a friend to review your cafe on my behalf, should it amuse me to do so.

Just to stroke my ego further, should you know what I look like, you should post a big ‘Wanted’ poster of my face on your wall. That would rock. You really are too amusing for your own good. Your positive bribery failed and your new negative bribery strategy is ludicrous. If you consider this to be an ethical business practice then you’re likely to make much bigger mistakes than merely publicly embarrassing yourselves…


  1. “we have decided to place a 6 month ban on you coming into the cafe”
    you’re BANNED Brian
    that’s too ridiculous … I laughed out loud!

  2. The tone of their latest email is even more juvenile and petty sounding than the last one, and I very much doubt that it will do much to attract potential customers. And surely a ban is jumping the gun somewhat, given they are yet to even open?

  3. Wow. This is one Fitzroy resident who will definitely NOT be visiting stencil.

  4. Banned from a cafe that has not even opened. Oh dear, I can see sleepless nights for you ahead.

  5. Hi there,

    FYI the email I was talking about you publishing had nothing to do with PR, it was regarding your behaviour that we and reading the comments other people, considered nasty.

    How you have gotten so worked up about not getting a free coffee is really quite bizarre, they are only around $3.50.

    We make no apologies for helping people out, that’s why we are selling the hottest street art for the hottest artists on commission, and if you want to try and hurt a local business with your petty attitude then go for it.

    The bottom line is you’re banned, and when you’re the one walking up the street trying to get a coffee and can’t- it’s going to be your own fault. Maybe you can stock up on Nescafe which seems to probably suit you more judging by some of your attempts at being a foodie. I only feel sorry for the staff and artists who are the innocent victims here.

    And to everyone else, you’re more than welcome to experience the place that everyone is talking about, and as a show of good faith our ‘Street Treats’ will be all half price for the first week, and ‘Spray Cans’ of Coke [Served in real Krylon cans] also half price.

    As far as we are concerned the matter is over. See you in 6 months.

    Thanks everyone again
    Stencil Cafe team

    • You are either particularly stupid or are being deliberately obtuse. I never wanted free coffee from you (or anyone else) and have repeatedly said so. Your apparent failure to understand this suggests that you are genuinely lacking the intelligence required to effectively participate in this debate. The act of offering free produce as a bribe for positive publicity is considered naive, desperate and unethical by many food bloggers including me.

      • What are you on about? You are obsessed with this coffee. I said there was no free coffee, will you just let it go and focus on something else.

        As I said earlier, this matter is over. You are banned, deal with it.

        • You are the one who keeps mentioning free coffee. You offered it to me, then withdrew the offer, then reoffered it, then withdrew it again. You’ve created a PR disaster for yourself and I am amused by how poorly you’re dealing with the consequences.

    • Oh no, Brian, where will you ever find coffee on Brunswick Street if they ban you?

      It really sounds as if they expect to be walking by their place daily and looking in sadly through the window. This response is so brain-dead that I can’t help but wonder if it was sent by the people at Slowpoke just to make Stencil look bad.

    • “… when you’re the one walking up the street trying to get a coffee and can’t- it’s going to be your own fault.”

      Yep, God knows how hard it is to find coffee in Brunswick St. Thank God Stencil is going to save the day!

    • I am not sure if serving food or drink in paint lined cans is at all legal or particularly palatable… And why krylon? Have you been reading American graffiti sites? You have not looked at ironlak? Wanting to support the locals and all.
      How about releasing a flyer with all the names of the artists that will be flocking to your graff/sports bar. It is quite common practice to let people know who is on the bill for an opening show…oh I know… Fitzroyalty is followed by many street artists you could put a call out here??? .~

  6. Here here Brian.
    What’s wrong with these people? I for one shall be sticking to Melbourne institutions like Black Cat and The Fitz. They might not have street art, but they have great coffee and great food and they don’t mind me pulling out the iPhone to do a little food blogging.

    …..And I’ve never been given a free coffee :(

    Just kidding.

    • Thanks. It’s places like the Black Cat and Alimentari that deserve to be called ‘institutions’ because they have delivered what people want for a long time and have therefore prospered.

    • Darren,

      “and they don’t mind me pulling out the iPhone to do a little food blogging.”

      To be fair you don’t sound like the sort of person that will be welcome at Stencil.

      • So is this about an anti-food blogger agenda? I thought it was just me.

      • I think this warrants explanation. I find it really difficult to believe that a) someone wanting to use an iPhone in a cafe isn’t welcome to do so, and b) that it’s considered okay to exclude people on the off-chance that they might say something less than glowing on some form of social media.

        Perhaps I’m being overly naive about this food blogging business, but if I wanted to blog about a meal or drink I had, I’d do so. It’s my blog, it’s word of mouth in exactly the same way my telling a friend to try or avoid a place based on my own experience is word of mouth. It’s just got the potential to reach more people, and that’s standard in the world we now live in. If you open up a public establishment of any kind then the expectation needs to be that you’ll be visible not just as a streetfront location, but as a byword on all manner of communication streams – particularly if your target audience is young, creative, motivated types.

  7. If this wasn’t so pathetic it would be comical – how the hell do they expect to attract a loyal following when all they do is insult competitors and ban bloggers – they haven’t even opened yet!! If and when they do open, I will impose my own lifetime ban upon them, and will never set foot inside the place. I wouldn’t want to give them a cent of my hard-earned cash – what freaks.

  8. Thanks for the entertainment Stencil.

  9. It was merely a reaction to the pretentious comment. ‘Whip out my iPhone’ etc.

    And Black Cat? I have no problem with them, but I’m sure a lot of their night time crowd will be checking us out anyway.

    And @Louise, check us out when we open- you will love it!

  10. I’ll stick to Slowpoke and Alimentari.

  11. Phil mate. Talk about digging yourself into a hole. I’ll admit that I thought Stencil sounded like a cool idea with a lot of potential when Brian first posted about it. Myself and many of my friends collect street art. But now I wouldn’t dream of entering your establishment no matter how “funky” it is.
    Fitzroyalty is a very influential site and a very choice of place to make a fool of yourself.

  12. This is surely some sort of performance art. There is no cafe and there never will be.

  13. I saw a poster for the opening of Stencil, but judging by this I think they’ll need to do a fair bit more to get people in there.

  14. Ha! Oh my god – they *mus* be trolling you Brian. Seriously who is so idiotic to keep on commenting.

    BTW – does that ban start NOW or from when they open? or from when you published the article? or from when they read your article? of from the date/time of their commen banning you?

    Come on Phil H – the people want to know!

    Can’t wait to buy me some street art to hang in my warehouse sharehouse.

  15. This blog is hilarious. I’m a convert!!

  16. I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry so I am laughing at this. Stencil this is the most bizarre publicity stunt I have come across. Have you noticed it seems to be backfiring?

  17. What a joke! This is a classic case of ‘5 Star attitude – from a 1 star’ establishment. Have they ever heard of freedom of speech? They sound incredibly arrogant and up themselves. I was born and raised in Fitzroy and it’s a joke how the new uppity types have moved in with these faux-posh attitudes. Eat humble pie guys and listen to criticism – if you had half a brain you’d take notice and see other people’s comments as a gift, as a way of improving your business. After all, by ignoring customer’s feedback and by not even making an attempt to listen to what punters have to say – these people are digging their early graves. I wish them luck in their self importance and delusion – but from the way that they’ve responded – I’ve decided that this place does not sound sexy at all – and I’ll be walking past next time I’m hungry or in need of coffee. They give Melbourne a bad name.

  18. frigging hilarious!!!!

  19. one wonders if this post will pip the Dexter’s post as the most commented upon on your blog

    (like the new layout/design btw … have been away for a while)

  20. erm sorry stream of consciousness commenting here … but how bizarre that their fb page is still acting as though they are opening in the original spot and boasts about fitzroyalty giving them a plug:


  21. Wow, this is insane! I don’t think I’ve ever come across proprietors so arrogant and disrespectful of the local community and the already well established businesses who have worked hard to win our love and loyalty. If they’re working on the assumption that ‘all press is good press’ then they seriously underestimate us.
    Here’s another local who will NOT be checking out Stencil. Ever. Looking forward to the Slowpoke team coming back!!!

  22. Has Banksy moved to Australia? This sounds like a Mr Brainwash stunt although in Exit Through the Gift Shop he at least managed to generate a lot of good hype. There was a cafe in Smith that only lasted 3 days with new owners, makes me wonder how long Stencil will last.

  23. Big difference is that Banksy is a genius that knows about and respects street art and culture. What do these guys know? Is Phil even part of the Melbourne street art scene?

  24. My sarcasm didn’t quite come across. You’re right on both points Duncan. This whole thing’s so weird. Are they not from around here?

  25. This has to be an example of the old adage; any publicity is good publicity. There can be no other explanation for the bizarre nature of their behaviour on here.

    When it opens I’d be tempted to go in just to put a face to this misguided PR stunt, I wouldn’t buy anything mind.

    Marketing your business requires tact, diplomacy and a very considered approach, this is a great example of the complete opposite of that.

  26. Just for kicks I would be asking them to clarify if the 6 months begins from the date of the email or the opening date?

    Why should you be punished for extra weeks/months because of their inability to open in a timely manner? ;D

  27. Damnit, I want to go to Melbourne just so I can *NOT* go to Stencil. Sheesh.

  28. Well, if they are attempting to generate some sort of online buzz it’s working, but maybe not as intended. Try a google search for “Stencil Cafe Fitzroy”

  29. Phil H, you’ll never win this one and only end up looking like a disgruntled employee from Gasp if you keep the sarcastic comments going.
    I know it’s providing more entertainment for the commenters but for your business’ sake, shut up and when Stencil opens, let your food/coffee/service do the talking.

  30. Hmmm…so I guess once the banned is lifted and the wanted posters removed you’ll be camping out on their doorstep to review them. Bwahahaha. This made my day.

  31. WOW! what are they thinking!!

    Fitzroy is one of the most loyal communities and 99% of times local patrons and businesses not only respect the institutions like marios and the black cat but encourage new faces like slowpoke and the backstreet cafe.. Stencil wont be getting my money. Good luck to you!

  32. @indolentdandy, “I’m Spartacus”

  33. from their FB page:

    We’re looking for funky street artists who want to put their work on the walls or even do some design work [we might even be able to sort out some some paint or coffee for your troubles!]

    Which I find quite disturbing because they are essentially taking advantage of street artists trying to get free design work.

    • hear hear…
      unless their baristas, kitchen staff, management etc. will be working for coffee/paint too this seems totally exploitative for what i assume will be a registered business.
      and not just the exploitative thing but also
      Really? You are starting a cafe which is focused around street art and you don’t know who to put on your walls? This seems bizarrely unresearched.

  34. Late to the party but acb was getting barred from cafés before it was cool

  35. I’m going to go in there (when they open) and order a coffee just so that when they ask my name for the order, I can say “Brian” and see if they say anything.

    • And check what you receive very carefully in case there are any extraneous materials hidden.

      That is of course, assuming Stencil is actually behind these emails which I am beginning to doubt. Could it be plausible that I am being manipulated into doubting?

      • I can assure all readers that I am not making any of this up. Whether someone is making up the Stencil stuff is unknown. The tone of voice in all the Stencil emails is very consistent, evidently written by the same person. The email from June 2011 came from a gmail account in the full name of one of the Stencil owners. The 2012 emails come from a gmail account in the name of Stencil.

    • Love the idea Bert! Has me picturing a line of customers all ordering coffee shouting “I’m Brian!” Though that could be influenced by having watched a certain Monty Python film recently…

    • “I’m Brian and so’s my wife!”

    • Please please please should anyone misguidedly go to this place, smile and introduce yourself as Brian ;-)

  36. They’re asking artists to work for free AND provide their own materials… They seem really naive judging by the tone of their facebook page: ‘It will be a Fitzroy institution’, ‘It’s going to be massive for the area. We’re looking for funky street artists who want to put their work on the walls or even do some design work [we might even be able to sort out some some paint or coffee for your troubles!]’

    I’ve painted nightclubs as a student and I was certainly never expected to a. provide my own materials and b. do it for free. Now that I’m out of school some years and practising, I wouldn’t do a freebie for an unestablished business with no previous credentials (ie: other successful cafes) who seem to have a strange ideas about promotion. I don’t imagine there are any committed artists who are in a position to do free work either – we’ve got to eat too.

    I’ve worked in Advertising or 14 years, and bad behaviour via blogs is increasingly becoming the kiss of death for companies, so would probably be Stencil’s best interest to not engage in further sniping and bans and act in a professional manner.

  37. I agree with you Brian – Stencil is clumsy, aggressive, unsure of how to work the media, cringe worthy in their two dimensional hipster spin, arrogant and far too self-assured for a non existent business. However, after seeing this article appear repeatedly in my facebook feed through outraged Melbournian friends, I am beginning to feel you may have created somewhat of a witch hunt. Hiding behind your journalistic integrity to publish clumsy internal communication from a new small business feels to me like exploitation and damages potential revenue. I believe these people would have had a chance to fail on their own, but now seem to be doomed upon arrival. Your aggressive pursuit to humiliate them verges on bullying as you have exposed their lack of experience in communication and the media, which gives you an unfair advantage. Your persistance in humiliating this new business negates your self perception as a casual and professional food blogger, and makes you out to be power hungry, dizzy from the intoxicating fame of food blogging. Although I abhor the concept of edgy, street art inspired cafe’s with “funky” menu’s, I do believe everybody deserves a chance to try their hand at running their own business.

    • I have not done anything to the Stencil people. Everything that has happened is the result of their choices and actions. I limit my power by not taking bribes and by remaining personally anonymous. Cafes owners usually don’t know what I look like. I ask for no special treatment and behave like an ordinary customer.

      In exposing some of the unprofessional behaviour and unethical practices behind blogging, where so many bloggers only write about what they receive for free, I am acting to uphold transparency and accountability.

      The witch hunt you speak of seems like a valid response. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of outrage. It’s harmless enough.

      • Whilst references to witch hunts are debatable, one has only to look at the the broader picture with regards to the way the mainstream media behaves today. I am referring specifically to the practices employed by the commercial media outlets which are not limited to and include the advertorial, or other forms of dressed up advertising passed off as journalism. So called ‘lifestyle’ TV shows purporting to be giving tips and advice and reality TV programs make my skin crawl and are major turn-offs as far as I am concerned.

        In the context of this exchange between Brian and Stencil, we are possibly getting some insight (on a micro scale) into the workings of a commercial entity attempting to engage in unethical behavior via the media in to benefit itself.

        We need more exposures.

        • Exactly so. Many people don’t believe that media can be ethical and non-commercial. They assume that all media can be bought, and so behave as Stencil did. The idea that I could not be bought and did not want to behave like corporate media was impossible for them to understand.

  38. Stencil have just tried to follow me on twitter. To accept & enjoy taking the piss OR decline and enjoy taking the piss?

  39. Isn’t this all a bit ridiculous? Do you people not have better things to worry about? Who cares how the Stencil people are acting? IT’S A COFFEE SHOP FFS. Phil should get over himself and frankly, so should the commenters here and particularly the blog editor.

    I can’t believe this made it to Crikey.

    From a Sydneysider who used to live in Fitzroy.

  40. Phil sounds like an arsehole. I wouldn’t buy a coffee from a dude who treats people like shit. Also, if you want street art with your coffee, just go down Johnston St to Juddy Roller. They are amazing.

  41. Wow. Just, wow.

    I drink a lot of coffee. The result of Stencil’s behaviour guarantees I will never step foot in their cafe now (not sure if my non-iPhone phone would still be too pretentious or not anyway).

    …but I will be reading Fitzroyalty far more often. Thanks for the Sunday night entertainment.

  42. This Phil guy from Stencil should be banned from using a computer. This is a huge mess for him and has already gone some way to create a lot of bad buzz for his cafe before the damn thing has even opened. The arrogance of Stencil is shocking, and to lord yourself as some great institution before you’ve made your first coffee? WTF.

  43. Brian, surely you’ve been had? This must be a piss take? Still no ‘Cafe’ and a ‘PR campaign’ designed to suck you in. It is kind of funny…

  44. Well, it did get them (and you) a mention in yesterday’s Age. Job done?

    • So restaurants hire bloggers to maintain their online presence? I guess there is where it can be said that they have crossed the line from blogging to being a company stooge. How could this work? Are patrons and audiences so gullible?

      • You’re being deliberately moronic. Is every person who uses their personal skills and knowledge to gain employment a stooge? If so then every employed person is a stooge, from toilet cleaners to surgeons.

        • I was certainly not referring to the bloggers uses of their skills to advance their employment prospects.

          As I understand it, former bloggers ( presumably ) once impartial and/or respected bloggers are being paid by businesses to use their notoriety as a means to influence targeted audiences and generate sales. Toilet cleaners and surgeons do not use prior notoriety or influence to generate new sales. I cannot see where you are drawing the parallel here.

          I didn’t suggest that said bloggers lacked intelligence for taking advantage of the trust and credibility they may have gained in the past to leverage their prospects for employment.

          • Bloggers are being hired for their skills and expertise in marketing and communications through online platforms, not for their personality or public identity. Through exercising their expertise they have built public profiles, but they are being hired for their expertise, not their identities. They are not being hired to personally endorse their employers through their own personal media channels. The extent to which anyone manages convergence between their personal and professional activities is for them to determine.

  45. Fair enough, there is certainly nothing wrong with the picture you have outlined. I was of the belief that previous influence would played a large part. I guess I am overly cynical.

    As we all know, it’s common practice in other form of media to use personalities to endorse and influence, it’s difficult not to be cynical. Normally, I run the other way as soon as I smell personality product endorsement.

  46. “It got my biggest traffic day ever and another story in Crikey and other mentions in the dead tree media.”

    But Brian I thought you despised the mainstream media because it is so terribly terribly unethical? Why would you care about “mentions in the dead tree media”?

  47. He really smoked you out, didn’t he Brian? As someone who hates stupid business concepts and asshole owners I mean. I’m still trying to figure out what the point of this exercise was, other than trolling for lulz like a 14-year-old.

    He did cause me to revise my thinking one small bit: instead of someone who will never patronise the Stencil Cafe, I am now someone who will never read AKTIFMAG.

  48. They call that an article? “here is how we were prat kids” and” this is what people said”… Lots of cut and paste too( two of mine and all) . And then to claim the high ground Pfff.
    The proved nothing more than people don’t like knob heads …

  49. So is the cafe open now?

  50. I somehow missed this post, but I just read it, and delightfully amusing as it is, I am disappointed I can’t read Phil’s comments due to all the negative votes they received. I’m sure they are the icing on the cake.

  51. Stencil – burn that to memory – as a resident, I won’t be going or recommending anyone go there..

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