FOR Yemeni-born chef Saleh Alshamsi, the dream of running a cafe in country Victoria is about to become a reality as he prepares to open his first venue in early March in the unlikely location of Gordon.
An Australian resident for 18 years, Mr Alshamsi has worked as a chef throughout Melbourne and Canberra, and has a special love for combining the flavours of his heritage with modern cuisine.
Along with his business partner Scott Graham, Mr Alshamsi said the playfully-named Gordon Bleu would be a fusion of modern cafe fare with a Middle Eastern twist.
Mr Alshamsi said he stumbled across the rundown colonial-era hotel in the picturesque township while out on a country drive in 2011.
“I was looking around and I saw this building and I thought I’d never seen a building like that before.”
While the building had been used as a pub until 1969, its most famous incarnation was as a refuge for alcoholics in the 1970’s, run by Mother Teresa’s order of nuns.
Since purchasing the premises five years ago, Mr Alshamsi has slowly battled away at refurnishing the dilapidated building while working full time in Melbourne.
“It was old as, and had been left pretty much in ruins,” Mr Alshamsi said.
“On the weekends we would come up and fix things. I never thought I would have a business here until around nine months ago, when I said why not?”
Mr Graham said the pair hoped to bring a sense of Melbourne cafe culture to the country, and engage with the local community as the primary customer base.
He said they were confident the cafe could act as a catalyst to reawaken the town.
“Yes it’s a bit sleepy, but there’s plenty of examples around Ballarat of towns like Myrniong and Wallace, reviving themselves though a good food offerings,” Mr Graham said.
While the cafe will initially open for breakfast and lunch, the pair have also acquired a liquor license with the hope of running dinner services in the future.