Each week, Ballarat chef and food writer Suzi Fitzpatrick quizzes industry identities on the local hospitality scene. This week, she caught up with the woman behind The Potted Pair, Jenny Hopkins.
Sometimes on a Monday morning, I get a text around 10 – "We are at Jen’s place". It’s from my fellow mum friends. You see, we’ve just spent two whole days with the entire family. We are over the can I’s, where’s my’s, and the how long’s, so we must regroup for another week. There is something about Jen’s place that is calming, comforting and rejuvenating. It might be best known around town as The Potted Pair but, to the locals of Lake Wendouree, it’s just Jen’s.
Suzi: So, what’s new?
Jen: I’ve just taken another booking for the back room, an intimate little cocktail party for about 25.
S: How long has it been since the old storage room was converted into this fresh, simple but elegant space?
J: It’s been nearly two years since we began the renovation. I have kept the original features while trying to make the space versatile. That way, we can move things around and utilise the room for all types of gatherings. In the past year, we’ve celebrated many occasions, like a 40th, 50th, 80th, baby showers and even a small wedding reception. The place looks so romantic at night with candles and the blaze of the open fireplace.
S: You really have the perfect spot for a quiet celebration. While a lot of other cafes focus on big meals, mugs of robust coffee and noisy chit chat, you pull it all back to elegant simplicity and attentively catering to people’s requests in your no-fuss manner.
J: I’m not a purest with coffee. My staff – three beautiful girls, Amy, Sarina and Hannah – and my mum Glennis and I know that the locals all have their own version of the perfect coffee. If someone wants a half-strength milky flat white or an extra hot latte, we just do it.
S: Do you think it’s too early for a sneaky wine? It’s nearly 4pm. Do you still have that yummy Mt Avoca shiraz?
J: Yes, a lot of people don’t realise we have a small wine list, but a few ladies pop in for a sneaky wine on the weekend or late in the afternoon. A lot of businessmen pop in and have a glass with a quick lunch.
S: You are very much the quintessential corner store. I see you are selling the local Prickleberry Sourdough, Gillies Pies and bags of lollies for the littlies. Was the shop ever a milk bar?
J: It was listed in 1894 as a grocer and the Lingham family ran it until the 1960s. A member of the Lingham family gave me some photographs of the shop from the 1950s. The Linghams supplied the locals with everything from toothpaste to liquorice.
S: My eldest daughter, Harper, who, due to being dragged to every cafe in town for nine years, has become quite a connoisseur of all thing foodie, tells me that you make the best spiders and milkshakes in Ballarat.
J: We serve our spiders in a tall parfait glass. We use old fashioned raspberry lemonade and quality vanilla ice-cream. I’ve watched many babies grow over the past five years. Lots of little girls ask if they can have their birthday here. We have even had one girl ask if she can work here when she grows up.
S: You’re open six days a week – do you ever get a day off to indulge yourself?
J: I don’t ever really go for a coffee or a wine around town, as I can have everything exactly how I like it here – extra choc on my coffee and an extended pour in my wine glass.
S: When you do make it out, where do you like to eat locally?
J: I love the food at The Lydiard Wine Bar. I’m vegetarian and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the mushroom croquettes or the potato bread. I also love The North Britain Hotel for a good homestyle meal.
As we sit here, two lovely senior ladies dotter in and place their regular order with Jen – "two piping hot coffees, please, to warm our hands – it’s freezing out there". Jen knows too well that this isn’t gourmet stuff. But what is paramount is the ladies’ experience on a whole. This graceful attitude is what Jen’s place is all about, which is why it’s the place I take my mum.
The Potted Pair, 31 Burnbank Street, Lake Wendouree