“It’s called ‘The Journal’. Come along and have a look. I’m sure you’ll like it.”
I’d just had a phone invitation to visit a new café in Mermaid Waters and already I was intrigued. Teacher-librarian by trade, I surmised that they’d done their research before the call. You know…librarian = books….
The Journal’s on a site I’d been watching with interest for months: the little L-shaped Mermaid Waters Shopping Village, an emergent Asian food hub. In particular, I’d noticed Yuens. Hidden in the crook of the centre, its transformation had begun several months ago with the second refurbishment of the Yuen’s store in ten years.
Always known for the freshness of its produce, I remember the original Yuens: the surrounds were tatty, the gauntlet of floor levels more reminiscent of an old market area than an inner-suburbia upmarket store.
But from the ugly duckling, a swan emerged, the new store with timber surrounds and beautiful displays showing off a range of gourmet grocery and deli items that makes shopping there an adventure. A coffee machine and food cabinet at the front of the store provided a coffee stop in a caffeine desert.
The conversion of the shop next door to The Journal expands the concept even further: a full-blown café with meals made to order and home-baked products, great Toby’s Estate coffee, cold-pressed juice, the wholesomeness reinforced by the earthy tones, open-faced pantry and kitchen on display.
The menu displays an all day breakfast of hearty favourites ranging from Bacon and Egg toasties ($8) and Eggs your way ($10) to The Journal’s Grande Brekky ($17). Lunch ($13 -$14) consists of burgers (including a Slow-cooked pork burger $14), some interesting salads (Thai Beef or Red Quinoa and Greens $14), BLAT as well as all day snacks, such as freshly baked pies and sausage rolls. There’s a street food influence evident with a weekly special and the Journal Signature Pork Roll (or Banh Mi, $6.50) with BBQ pork, pickled carrot, homemade pâté, whole egg mayo, coriander and cucumber stuffed into a crusty roll.
Priced to please, it’s the sort of place where locals feel comfortable, with families and couples dropping in for a chat on the walk past or stopping to drink, eat, and read the paper. Browsing and dining extends beyond the café to the outdoor deck, where we sit under umbrellas in sight of the glowing produce in the Yuen’s store.
‘So, tell me about the concept of this store,” I say to Jenny Yuen, manager of both stores – Yuen’s and The Journal, as well as the centre.
“We’re trying to achieve a one stop shop, for both convenience and a personal shopping experience. We give our customers convenience through adding grocery lines, a chance to meet friends, chat and catch up over some fresh food, as well as the experience of buying the best stock we can purchase at the best prices we can achieve,” she tells me. “This is their local store.”
I’m interested in how Yuen’s source their produce and keep quality control…
“We buy what we need for each day. Five days a week our buyer goes to Rocklea in the early hours of the morning and walks the floor, lifting boxes, looking at stock in lower boxes to make sure it’s as good as the goods on show.
It’s a specialist job that’s only as good as the person doing it. We know by the weather conditions what we should and should not buy; we know the crops and what’s in season. We buy from the farmers and bring everything straight back here, not to a bulk warehouse somewhere.”
(The only exceptions to farm sourced produce, she tells me, are the few products that are imported to meet demand – asparagus, avocadoes, oranges, cherries, grapes… when there is no seasonal supply of Australian produce.)
Referring to her Asian heritage, Jenny adds, “We grew up with that sort of freshness. Our Chinese vegetables are cut that very morning on the farm, washed and crated and brought straight here onto the shelf.”
So, where did the cafe’s name come from? I’m surprised by Jenny’s response.
“I was trawling around for a name when I realised that The Journal wasn’t taken,” Jenny tells me. [I’m still mystified by the name’s significance, but Jenny continues.]
“I came to Australia from Malaysia when I was eight years old. I couldn’t speak English, and I really wanted to read so badly. Any chance I got, I’d grab something to read. Magazines and journals were my favourite because I could flick through the pictures and try to work out the words. I’m still a great reader, picking up a book whenever I can.” She smiles.
I’m blown away, completely unprepared for the unashamedly candid response to such a question; amazed as well by the genuine charm and warmth which Jenny shows her customers.
“Hi Ron, how’re you doing?” No matter how old or frail the customer, all her regulars are greeted by name, given personal attention and a beaming smile.
Chef Brent brings over a Bruschetta while Jenny attends to a question elsewhere.
“She’s a real people person,” he tells me, his genuine affection for his boss shown in his open smile.
This is ‘farm to table, kitchen to you’ fresh food delivery, with personal service which is often achieved best through a family business.
Jenny’s own words sum this place up best: “It’s a specialist job that’s only as good as the person doing it!” …Or the boss whose vision and care leads the team.
88 Markeri Street, Mermaid Waters, Queensland 4218
Ph: 07 5572 1575
NOTE: This review has also been published on Blank Gold Coast.
Disclaimer: Good Food Gold Coast was a guest of The Journal.