Suzi: Tell me what you like most about Eclectic Tastes...
Nikki: I can’t pinpoint it but it’s like a smorgasbord — you don’t know what to eat first. I love everything — the locals, the staff the food, the atmosphere, the comradery and, of course, the coffee. (S: I think she means wine.)
S: You make a "mean bean" — in fact, I’d say you’re one of Ballarat’s top baristas. Can you remember your first coffee experience?
N: (Laughs...) I grew up in Nyal West, a small country town near Swan Hill. My dad was a baker and I remember freshly cooked hot bread with lashings of butter, and stealing sips of mum’s Nescafe — six sugars, no stirring.
S: That’s what I love about you — the passion and the food memories that translate into a love of sharing with others. Tell me about some of the Eclectic peeps that pop in every week?
N: Well, there’s Monday’s Mat, who lives just down the road. He’s a short mac and Moroccan eggs. And there’s a group of local real estate agents, big foodies. Then Tuesdays — actually, nearly every day — there’s the sportsgirls who run the lake then warm up with a skinny latte, no cake, no cream. Wednesday is the ladies. They dress in their finery, share a cake and love a nice hot cuppa. Thursday might be the ballet mums, with little ones for bubba chinos and a freckle cookie. And, for as long as we can remember, it’s the boys on Fridays — they love a little tart (Portuguese, of course), Coke, no straw, and will test the chef with a personal request or two. We love them all.
S: The customers themselves are very eclectic, not just the Wendys (west-end trendies)...
N: We have a huge nana following, business lunchers in a hurry, local identities, school mums and, on the weekends, we get the groovy Melbourne crew. Also, a lot of international travellers in Ballarat for sightseeing call by for a quick dumpling or yum cha.
S: Is there anything the customers do that makes you cranky?
N: We sometimes get people who don’t understand what we’re about or the food movement in general. Fresh is best. We make everything to order — it might take longer but it’s worth it. We don’t like to rush our people — we want them to indulge their senses and enjoy their whole experience, the theatrics and the creativity. We understand some people are in hurry, so we recommend they let us know what’s happening in their day and what their needs are.
S: What’s your favourite piece of kitsch décor?
N: I love finding Barbie — she’s always hanging out somewhere different in the shop. Today, she was planking in the red room.
S: Which room do you like best?
N: I love the orange room. It’s a bit of a games room with animal skin rugs (pre-loved, of course), beastie heads complete with horns, trophies and sporting goods.
S: What is the best part of your day?
N: I love thinking of something to put on the chalkboard. Today was "Love is like a dumpling — hot and steamy".
S: Tell me something unusual that sticks in your mind...
N: One day, a customer told me there was a lady on table six whose order I hadn’t taken. I looked and there was no one on that table. The customer told me the lady was a visitor from the old cemetery, that she didn’t really want anything and she was just happy to enjoy the company. See, even the ghosts are local.