Named for the 1950’s Liza Minnelli movie, this Spencer Street café used to be a house before it was converted into a restaurant. Josh and Mel were living together in October 2014 when they bought Junie Moon’s from the original owners. The café had been in the same spot for about three years but was very different to what it is today.
“It was very eccentric, a bit intimidating too, so when we took over we kept the name and that was it,” says Mel
Mel and Josh were already seasoned café-goers, frequently touring popular Melbourne brunch and breakfast spots. After trying a few ‘Top 10 Café’ lists, Josh realized that Mel (being a certified professional chef), could cook better than most of the places they were visiting.
“A lot of the food looked really pretty but had no flavour or the complete opposite. It wasn’t the same as what we could do – it wasn’t on the merit of the food,” says Mel.
“We were just sitting at home and I realized, ‘Mel could totally smash these places’. So, we thought, ‘Why not? We could do this.’ And within an hour of having that conversation we saw that Junie’s was up for sale, it was just meant to be,” says Josh.
Both Josh and Mel had been living in the area for a while, with Josh’s dad owning a business down the road and Mel having worked at a nearby pub for a while. So when they took over Junie Moon’s, they really wanted to create a business community.
“We went around with muffins and introduced ourselves, like good neighbours! It’s had an amazing effect. We all support each other however we can, sharing around staff when needed. Josh and I even worked at Festival Hall last week, just working the bar and washing dishes when they were short staffed,” says Mel.
For Mel and Josh, creating a friendly and welcoming environment is one of their goals, both in the wider business community and within their own business. Their staff are one of the most important parts of their business and Josh and Mel invest heavily in them.
“All our staff are hard-working, smart, and invested in the business. We give to them and they give right back to the business and it means that we’re a really close-knit group. We all socialise outside of work and are genuinely interested in each others’ lives – we’re like a family,” explains Josh.
With so many cafés popping up all over Melbourne, and many of them disappearing just as quickly, Josh and Mel knew that they had to make Junie Moon’s unique to stand out and be competitive.
“Personality is a huge part of what we do. The way we serve our food is different too. Junie Moon’s used to be a house before it was converted, so our kitchen is like a normal home kitchen. So it’s genuine homemade food but prepared by a professional chef. There’s nothing quite like it,” says Josh.
“It all starts with the food – we really care about what we put on a plate. We also really try to get to know our customers personally, and it shows. We even have customers bringing their plates straight back to the kitchen to have a chat and tell us how their food was!” Continues Mel.
Josh and Mel love the relationships they form with their customers and strive to keep their business personal.
“It’s the little things – we love making people happy through food. We love when customers come into the kitchen for a chat or come in the next day and tell us how much they loved Junie’s,” says Mel.
“In a big business you can get lost a little bit and it can be very impersonal at times. Running your own business with a smaller team means you get to see the results at the end of the day and know its off your own back,” adds Josh.
One of the staples of Junie Moon’s is their constantly changing menu. Aside from their Deli Section and Breakfast items, their menu changes every week depending on availability and seasonality.
“We have the same menu structure but the meals change every week. We go from having Thai soup and Mexican burgers to Indonesian veggies and homemade pasta. At the end of every week, we sit down and plan out what the next week’s meals are going to be. We very rarely have the same items twice,” explains Mel.
They’re able to keep a fresh and updating menu because they have such a good relationship with their suppliers. All the food at Junie Moon’s is homemade with local and organic produce and with the Vic Market so close, Mel and Josh have easy to access to a range of suppliers and fresh ingredients.
“We try and source everything as locally and organically as possible, without skimping on quality. Real, organic food just tastes better, it’s that simple. And because we’ve lived in the area so long, we know the market and the suppliers really well,” says Mel.
It’s surprising to find a café as quiet and calm as Junie Moon’s so close to the city. This is one of Junie’s most charming features but funnily enough, it wasn’t a specific intention of Josh and Mel’s to make it so.
“We didn’t really plan it that way but it was a nice coincidence. It’s rare to find a quiet spot so close to the city. When you head out the back you wouldn’t think the CBD is only a 10-minute walk away,” says Josh.
Despite the huge popularity of café, bar and restaurant websites, social media hasn’t had as big of an impact on business as Josh and Mel thought it would. They regularly use their own business social media accounts but don’t make social media marketing a huge priority.
“We had a few customers come through after we got a write up in Broadsheet and mention the article. But this stopped after a week or two. We use our Instagram and Facebook pretty regularly to post our weekly menus and specials. We get a great response from that with a lot of customers looking forward to what’s going to be on the menu next week,” explains Josh.
Expansion has been on Josh and Mel’s minds for a while now, but they’re waiting for the right time. They have set their short and long-term goals and aim to be realistic with their expansion plans, wanting to do it right.
“We’d love to expand. We love the home-style feel of where we are but the kitchen’s just not big enough to do some of the things we want. We’d love to be able to do take away orders and start up a permanent range of vegan burgers. In the long-term we’d love to be able to sell our Junie Moon’s Vegan Treats nationally,” says Mel.
“We’d love to open a second shop. There have actually been two occasions where we did almost have another shop, but it just wasn’t meant to be,” says Josh.
Like many business owners, when Josh and Mel first started out their business demanded almost all of their time. Their work/life balance was out of whack and they had to make sacrifices for their business to thrive.
“At first we just worked and it becomes your life. I don’t think you can have a work/life balance when you run a business because the business just becomes such a huge part of your life. It can get overwhelming so it’s important to have people you can lean on. You’ve just got to love what you do and really want it,” says Josh.
Josh and Mel have learned a lot since starting their own business and, like a lot of new business owners, they had to learn as they went. They know a lot now that the wished they knew when they started Junie Moon’s. So if they had to pass on any wisdom to aspiring business owners:
“Keep an eye on your cash flow. Renting as much as you can is one to really help that. We rent all our fridges and freezers. It’s cheaper, keeps money flowing and when it’s time to upgrade or if one breaks, we can easily get a replacement,” continues Mel.
“You’ve gotta want it and you’ve got to really be willing to work hard for it. But you’ve also got to be really willing to work hard for nothing for a long time.”