The newest addition to Mayland’s burgeoning cafe scene has attracted a loyal and passionate following in just a couple of months. Natalie Gerritsen reports.
SARAH Schwikkard has travelled the world, taught English to prisoners and worked for one of the country’s biggest magazines.
But, ever since she was a little girl, she just wanted to cook for people.
Now, with the opening of her Maylands cafe, Mrs. S, she’s living out that childhood dream, and more successfully that she ever dared to imagine.
Mrs. S has been busy for breakfast and lunch almost every day since opening last November in a heritage-listed building on the corner of Eighth Avenue and Whatley Crescent.
Mrs Schwikkard searched high and low for a building with character.
“I wasn’t too concerned about what suburb I went into, it was more the type of building,” she told Gusto.
“I didn’t want to go into a brand new complex and have a stainless steel cafe. The premises here are heritage listed and the floors are 120 years old, and I liked that.”
And while setting up shop, she almost unexpectedly found herself in the midst of a Mayland’s rebirth as a growth suburb.
Mrs. S occupies space in the Maymont building, a refurbishment residential/commercial project by local boutique developer Match.
Maymont encompasses 16 retail outlets, most of which are now full, and 42 apartments above street level.
“I didn’t realise at the time how much is going on in Maylands, but now that I’m part of it, I‘m really glad that I came when I did, because there’s so much to come and it’s a really nice community to be a part of,” Mrs Schwikkard says.
“Everyone’s really friendly and no-one’s competitive.
“Everyone does their own thing; there’s lots of cafes around here but everyone offers something a little bit different.”
What Mrs. S offers is simple, fresh food made with seasonal produce using culinary influences from Mrs Schwikkard’s travels to Italy, the Middle East and beyond.
After living in Europe, Mrs Schwikkard returned to Australia and worked as a food editor for the Australian Women’s Weekly.
“That was my dream job and it was amazing but I was living in Sydney and it was very lonely, so the west side won out in the end,” she says.
After returning to Perth and completing a diploma in education, she found herself teaching at a men’s prison.
“It wasn’t really my cup of tea. Again, all I wanted to do was cook for them and that wasn’t what I was there to do,” she says.
“I decided it was just time to bite the bullet and do this.”
Mrs Schwikkard started planning in earnest in June last year, and by July had secured the lease to her building of choice.
After a month of construction, Mrs. S was ready to open, with Mrs Schwikkard calling on the experience gained working at nearby Cantina 633 in Mount Lawley.
“I learned a lot about everything and put a lot of that into practice here, like customer service,” she says.
“A lot of things you just absorb and (they) become part of your knowledge about the industry and running a business.
“That wasn’t why I was at Cantina but in hindsight it was such a good grounding.”
Mrs Schwikkard wanted to create a space that was comfortable and inviting, where solo diners could come and not feel awkward or alienated.
Purple walls and fresh flowers create a soft, welcoming feel, while mismatched chairs and menus pegged inside children’s books provide a touch of whimsy.
A mural painted by Cantina colleague and illustrator Lisa Ternes dominates one wall of the cafe.
Cookbooks and homewares displayed around the cafe are all for sale.
“I think it ties in well,” Mrs Schwikkard says.
“I’m not trying to sell clothes and random things, it’s all food related, and I think having things on the walls makes the place look richer.”
She’s been overwhelmed by the response to Mrs. S so far, but credits it to the focus placed on warm and engaging customer service.
“We have excellent, loyal regulars who come in every day and that’s a really important thing for a cafe,” Mrs Schwikkard says.
“I tell everyone who works here that everything you do for a person has to be the best you’ve ever done, you have to make someone the best coffee or the best plate of food, give them the best service.”