In the past year or so, cafes that have closed in Fitzroy include Shire, Endis, Brunetti and Nova. New cafes that have opened include Grace, Pitittu (replacing Brunetti), Bar Paradiso (replacing Felice’s bar), Industry Beans, Hammer and Tong (replacing the restaurant Brix) and Ethos (replacing Nova). Endis is reported to be reopening in the former Shire space. Ici closed and reopened.
I count more openings than closures, which means competition is increasing while small business profits appear to be declining. Several businesses on Johnston St are in trouble. The Old Bar threatened to close due to declining income, Hares and Hyenas now runs evening events to supplement its meagre income from competing with Amazon, and the ATO is trying to shut down the Burlesque bar.
Amidst all this gloom a new cafe called Ethos has optimistically just opened in the former Nova space on Brunswick St. The bare stone walls remain but the interior now feels more spacious and welcoming, not shabby and cluttered. The coffee is good. I ordered the Egyptian dukkah eggs, which the menu describes as coming with smoky baba ghanoush, bacon, rocket and chilli oil on toasted turkish bread.
Variations on this dish have been a minor standard in the past few years, and I’ve enjoyed versions at Ici, Bluebird (Collingwood) and Enni (Thornbury). The version at Ethos looks good – the rocket is fresh, the eggs are perfectly fried with the yolks still soft and the bacon is just right – not too soft, not too crisp.
But underneath things are not quite right. The baba ghanoush is not smoky and can only be described as tasting like bland manufactured gloop. I don’t buy this stuff from the supermarket to eat at home and I don’t want to eat it at a cafe. Baba ghanoush is very easy to make and I do it at home all the time. Is it asking too much to expect a cafe to make its own?
Next, the bread. It’s not Turkish. It’s a toasted roll. There’s no evidence of chilli oil and the dukkah is minimal. How hard is it to get Turkish bread? I get mine from Sonsa on Smith St. This is one of the trivial things that I dislike the most when I go to a cafe – the dish I order not being what I get. I rate this dish as barely average.
Ethos plans to donate a percentage of its profits to charities or not for profit organisations nominated by customers, which is a great idea. You can nominate organisations via their website. I nominated the Fitzroy Learning Network.
If the small business environment is becoming tougher, with marginal returns for long hours of hard work, will there be any profits for Ethos to share? To generate profit, cafes need to be mostly full most of the time. Ethos will only gain a loyal customer base if they deliver great food and, based on my initial experience, I don’t think the food is good enough to do that.
Apart from all the other new cafes, Ethos has to compete against established favourites like Babka and Atomica, and it will have to try harder to survive in this competitive environment. In summary, I genuinely wish Ethos well, but I am a bit sceptical.