Four walls can be so much more. When I heard from my wife that Pope Joan is to close earlier tonight I thought “that’s sad” but it wasn’t until a few hours later that I felt compelled to write about it.
It is not wholly unusual for me, but I am emotional. The connection we sometimes build to places is incredible. Most of us know love in an object, such as our family home. I am sure there are many of us who build an emotional attachment to many more places, including our favourite cafes.
Pope Joan has been open for 8 years. When it first opened, Catherine and I used to go so often that some of my friends would roll their eyes when it was mentioned. Like any relationship we had our good times at Pope Joan, and our not as good times. The underlying quality of food, service and the intangibles such as the atmosphere, and the feeling you have when in the space, was the reason we kept going back and have for 8 years.
There are some obvious elements in a cafe, or any venue, that capture a following. For us, Pope Joan had more than the obvious. It was all of a 20 minute drive, sometimes worse in weekend traffic (even taking our backstreet methods that became a necessity!) Living in Richmond we were surrounded by great cafes within and close to our suburb, but we still ventured. To this day one of our favourite waitpersons worked at Pope Joan.
Matt Wilkinson has a love for what he does. I have not once spoken to him, but the passion and quality he brings is infectious amongst the entire staff. It is that intangible quiet confidence that is so difficult to replicate. Maybe it is just not being surrounded by Scandinavian everything? No, it is more than that.
I’ve sat around drinking coffee after coffee with friends, doing the form on the Monday before the Melbourne Cup. We have had an almost-Australia Day BBQ afternoon. We’ve been when it is pouring with rain and freezing cold; we’ve been out the back when you need sunscreen and a hat.
When it comes around, the crab omelette is brilliant. The Pope Joan (bacon and egg roll) is still one of my favourites. The rice pudding is a dish that I will still speak about when I have great-grandchildren.
I would like to say to Matt and his staff a huge thank you. At the same time I would like to remind other restaurateurs and hospitality staff that places only get this type of love when there is real passion and feeling. That wonderful purpose of being hospitable, and having an aspiration to be inspirational is the reason for success. Good luck in the future. We’ll miss this patch of Nicholson Road, Brunswick East.