Many people dreamt of making big life changes during the challenging Melbourne lockdowns – impressively, Sarah de Lean and Cameron Bobbitt made theirs happen. Nabo is a warm and cosy oasis in Melbourne’s Kingsville suburb. The café’s décor and menu are inspired by Sarah’s time in Scandinavia, and the business’s values are driven by Sarah and Cam’s love of community, and their commitment to sustainability.
Sarah talked to us about the inspiration behind the name of their café, their plans for future expansion, and the way that owning a business can interfere with one’s personal, peaceful daily coffee ritual.
Market Lane Coffee: Can you tell us the story behind the name Nabo and how it ties into the shop?
Sarah de Lean: Nabo is Danish for 'neighbour' – it is an ode to our community. We both grew up, lived, worked and met in Melbourne’s West. Cam and I had dreamed of opening a cafe for years. But it never felt like the right time, it was always a 'one day' kind of dream. But Covid and lockdowns hit and, like everyone, we were spending all of our time within our 5km and reassessing what we wanted for our future. We were so inspired by the community spirit, the support for local, and the relationships that grew with our neighbours that we finally had the courage to take the leap.
The Scandinavian influence is reflective of my travels through all of the beautiful Nordic countries. That was the first time I really grasped the love of sitting in a cafe. I loved that coffee experiences were much slower – mulling over several cups of filter. The kinds of food served encouraged a more meditative and present experience, both solo and shared, which was something we both wanted to instil in the experience at Nabo. The Scandinavian name also speaks to the concept store, Blær, which we currently run online and hope to open in a space alongside Nabo later this year.
What inspired your menu and how do you choose the suppliers you work with?
Before developing the space or even the menu, there were suppliers that we were very hopeful to work with. We wanted to challenge the quality and standard of produce used in your local café, as well as think consciously and take responsibility for our impacts as a business.
We are proud partners of How Now Dairy, where the dairy cows and their calves live side by side and we share in their milk, as well as Madelaine's Eggs, which we have dubbed the 'golden eggs'. As vegetarians ourselves, these are the only eggs we buy – they are NASAA Certified Organic and true free range. Alternative milks were another area we wanted to challenge, we made the decision to not offer almond milk, as there are a number of sustainability issues with the milk. In the process, we found an alternative which we believe tastes better and is far more environmentally conscious, thanks to macamilk. Market Lane was always our number 1 choice for coffee – a premium product, longstanding relationships with coffee growers, sustainable packaging and now carbon neutral!
Packaging was another area that we really wanted to challenge. There is definitely room to grow here, as we are really hoping to eliminate as much waste as possible, but we are very proud to have zero plastic packaging for takeaway and we’re huge supporters of the people at 'I Am Mot Paper', where our coffee cups are lovingly created from agricultural biproducts rather than trees. They’re also fully compostable!!
Our menu is driven by seasonal produce and whole foods and entirely vegetarian/vegan. Due to the nature of following the seasons, our menu changes quite regularly, and some things may need to be adapted weekly because of supply and availability. Honouring this cycle brings a real sense of appreciation for nature's rhythms.
From product to packaging to plate, we think consciously about what we serve and why.
What inspired the look of the venue?
There were a number of elements that inspired the interior and build of Nabo. We wanted a space that was welcoming and warm, a feeling that alluded to that of a home…like dropping by a friend's house for a catch up. The kitchen design is all open plan, so all staff are part of the customer experience. We wanted the chefs to be as involved with customers as the baristas and floor staff.
Visually we were inspired by a modern take on Danish mid-century design fused with the earthiness of Japanese simplicity. We haven't wanted to overcrowd the space – a few key elements like art and lighting, and then soften the space with people, produce, and beautiful floral arrangements by friends in our community.
What have you found the most rewarding about owning your own cafe?
There is so much to feel rewarded by! We are so grateful to have such genuine supplier partnerships with likeminded people/businesses – it is incredibly humbling. We are so thankful for the connections we are building with our community of regulars who are genuinely so supportive of us and the space we are creating. Watching the space become a place of community gathering has really filled us with joy. Neighbours bumping to each other, those sharing communal tables that end up chatting and connecting, families enjoying our collection of books with their children. It really does feel like an extension of home for our community.
We still have to pinch ourselves that we grew all of this through such a heavy few years, and acknowledge how privileged we are to be able to have created something positive during a time when so many people lost so much.
What is your morning coffee ritual?
Morning coffee rituals are very different now than they were – at home, we always hand grind and then use either our percolator or v60 filter. When home, I love the slow ritual of coffee – grinding, boiling the kettle and then watching the coffee filter. I would most mornings aim to be without my phone and just enjoy coffee and the sunrise by candlelight. It is very much a ritual for me. These days it looks a bit different, and normally I am hanging out for Cam to make me a long black or a filter as soon as he has set up the coffee machine! I have noticed in losing the morning ritual, I sometimes will make a coffee in the afternoon so I can enjoy that same slow experience.
Cam working as a barista for such a long time has meant he hasn't always had the luxury of a slow coffee ritual. However, when we have days off together, more often than not, I will be the first to wake and make the morning coffee and so Cam can enjoy it in bed snuggled up with our pup, Lulu.
To learn more about Market Lane’s wholesale coffee program, visit our Wholesale Coffee page.