Tucked into the back courtyard of Fremantle’s Kakula’s Sister is one of Perth’s few bonafide hidden gems. Leake Street Cafeteria is at once a hideaway right in the middle of Freo’s busy city centre, a standout cafe in a place where people can afford to be choosy, and one of Perth’s most interesting hospitality venues.
We spoke to Leake Street’s owner, operator and chef Wade Drummond about hospitality in Fremantle, the logistics of operating a tiny cafe, and what inspires him.
Creating a Space
"I've always had a fascination with food. It's always felt quite instinctive.” said Wade, “I don’t have cheffing qualifications or anything, I learned everything from helping mum cook, making mistakes myself or watching tv and reading cookbooks.”
Wade competed in Masterchef in 2012 had spent the intervening years selling crumpets at the Subiaco Farmer’s Markets when he stumbled upon the beautiful courtyard outside Kaklula’s Sister. "I always saw so much potential in it. I'd wanted to do my own space and to do something different, so I wrote a letter to Kakulas, we had a chat, and suddenly I had to find money for it.” he said.
In early 2015 Wade took to Kickstarter with a fun one-shot promo video and a range of rewards from a bag of coffee beans up to office catering and dinner parties for backers. By the end of the year the Kickstarter had reached its target and the cafe was underway.
A Shoebox Cafe
"I've had a few chefs walk in and just say 'nope, you can't do what you do here.' It's true, a lot of the time it's just so small it shouldn't work."
Within the beautiful courtyard where customers eat and drink, the cafe space and indeed the kitchen in which Wade creates his salads, soups, pickles and sandwiches is smaller than most food trucks. Bench space is at a premium, and the oven is large enough to cook just a single loaf of bread at a time. While he agrees that it’s challenging, Wade admits that necessity finds a way when using his tiny kitchen to fuel the cafe. This includes turning to pickling, which the cafe has become famous for.
"I started doing pickles here because I had to. There's not a lot of cooking facilities, no space to fry or sautee. It came about from necessity and I've just looked at how to do them best in different combinations through experimentation.”
"Preparation is key when working as a one person operation, you have to plan. I was a 'we'll just wing it' sort of person, but when you're working by yourself you quickly realise that you start running out of everything, and it costs a lot of money to keep running out to the shops.” said Wade, "If we run out of an ingredient, pickling takes three days, sometimes even three weeks. If we run out of sauerkraut, it's three weeks until a new batch is ready, theres a lot of planning in that respect."
Wade chases his curiosity to keep his menu and outlook fresh. "I get a bit obsessive.” he said, "I have moments where I'll read something or see an ingredient and just have to try it. It'll sit in the back of my mind until I can actually do it, whether that takes two days, a month, or a year. It'll be there until I scratch that itch."
“Recently, I went through Kakulas and they had some black barley, I thought I'd make a chicken and black barley soup, and then kept going through iterations until I was happy with it. Black barley is a two day process, you have to soak it, you have to germinate it a bit, but I knew I’d have to keep going until I had something I was happy with.”
"I have moments where I'll read something or see an ingredient and just have to try it. It'll sit in the back of my mind until I can actually do it, whether that takes two days, a month, or a year. It'll be there until I scratch that itch."
No Such Thing as Perfection
"I can change things just enough that I see an improvement, and the customer either likes it more, or doesn't notice. Some people have asked why I bother, and I can only tell them that it's infinitely better to try something new.”
With no street frontage and a space like nowhere else in Perth, Wade relies on the strength of his product and hospitality to keep people coming back. He mentions he tries to make every person’s visit as good as it can be, and reflects the same desire for continual improvement in his food.
"People who come in are very loyal. I get customers who come in on holiday or for an event and stumble upon us. People find us on a whim or a chance and often they come back, even if it's the next time they're in Perth.” said Wade.
Leake Street Cafeteria is open weekdays from 7:30 - 2:30, inside Kakulas Sister, Fremantle. Check our their website for more from Wade.