Entering Blackboard Varsity you get the feels. It’s a chilled place where you feel comfortable. Some patrons are working on laptops, others sipping coffee or talking to friends. Staff smile and say hello in passing. It strikes me that this is a happy place, ‘inclusive’ in every way.
‘Good times daily in the heart of Varsity’, the website says, and it certainly seems that way.
I also realise that not all workplaces are this happy. So, what makes Blackboard special? I wonder.
Described by others as ‘a breath of fresh air’, owners Daniel and Nicole bought Blackboard Varsity in January 2021. With hospitality businesses in Melbourne, Nicole’s family had a café in the inner city and a successful catering business. In 2017 they had expanded interstate, opening a cafe at ACU in Brisbane.
But though business was flourishing, trouble lurked around the corner.
“Melbourne was really hard hit with lockdowns during Covid,” Nicole tells us. “They were pounded by one lockdown after another. Most shops shut for two years. Just when our family’s catering company was working at attaining sustainability, business dried up and had to close. It was very painful,” she adds.
Covid brought out the best and the worst in people. While some didn’t understand the effects of staff shortages on service, others have been understanding and helpful.
“I think it’s partly because of what we’ve been through that we wanted to reach out to help people suffering in the floods. We’ve taken things down there, including eight washing machines,” Nicole says.
Through the pain of loss, good has come, Nicole telling us, “We made the move here and we’re really lucky to have this place. 2021 was the best year for Blackboard.”
Both Daniel and Nicole take a hands-on approach to the 100-seat business, working in the restaurant and interacting with customers. While Nicole has worked in hospitality for around 18 years, it’s new to Daniel, who has an IT sales background. What he brings is his ability to get on with people.
“We have worked on team building and have a great crew with respect for each other,” Daniel adds. “We have great support from our team and because of that we’ve been able to work through everything. People want to come here, work here, come in on their days off and hang about.”
There’s a mixed demographic of diners, from singles to young families on the weekend to retirees, and everyone is made welcome.
“We mostly get locals in here, with a few new faces,” says Daniel. “It’s their ‘home space’ where they feel comfortable.”
The open space with its polished concrete floor features both tables and chairs, timber greenery boxes dividing the space and banquettes along both sides of the boxes. High seating looks out the windows across a smaller streetside alfresco dining area where pets are welcome.
“Some people like to sit at the same tables doing some work on their laptops, or just hang out. Then on the weekend they will bring friends and family in. It’s like having a family up here. They’re our family,” he adds.
When I ask what he believes has led to their success, Daniel talks about establishing trust.
With a menu of breakfasts, burgers and bowls, there’s a troupe of generous plate loads exiting the kitchen of Chef Matt Lewis. Using seasonal produce to create specials and variations on dishes, food is excellently made and unfussy.
“We offer a consistent product, and people have come to trust that it’s going to be the same every time, and of the same standard. They know they can get a great meal here every time. People believe in the product.”
There is interaction around the menu as well, with weekly specials and the formal request for honest feedback on new menu items when they are added.
But another part of ‘consistency’ is staying with what works. Four menu items have been long-standing dishes in the café.
Blackboard Hash Eggs Bene is the signature dish that has been on the menu for eight years. So has the Truffle Scramble.
The Breakfast roll and Fruit toast remain standards, with Pixel bread a winner, variations mixing them up to provide variety.
My next bet for a standard would be the Miso Pumpkin toast. It’s completely different to other versions I’ve tried, the sweetness of pumpkin providing a twist in this healthy savoury dish.
“Food, people, coffee – that is our culture,” Daniel says.
Interesting, generous serves of food, great coffee, team building and welcoming customer service, consistent every time. It’s a goal that this couple has worked steadily towards and it has paid off. They not only have each other’s backs but they’re reaching out to others. We love it.
Blackboard Varsity, Shop 7/240 Varsity Lakes, Varsity Lakes, Ph: 0411 683 423
Open daily 6am – 3pm, No bookings required. Licensed.
NOTE: Good Food Gold Coast dined as a guest of Blackboard Varsity on one occasion.