Looking back to move forward

Nothing good is easy, think about it. If good were easy we'd be confronted with greatness at every turn, and let's face it, we are not. People say, “Oh, we’re so spoilt for choice these days aren’t we?’ Nope, this is bullshit. We may be spoilt by poor choices, but we are definitely not spoilt for them. It’s never been a dream of mine to open another cafe, produce some plates of food, create another place where people can spend their money; there are too many lining up for that gig. What’s much more interesting is asking questions like, “Why operate a cafe at all?' "Why is this called breakfast" "Why design a space like this?” If there’s not a compelling reason for each, don’t create at all. To quote Yoda, “do, or do not do... there is no try”. 

I am with Rising Sun Workshop because we are fuelled by the same dissatisfaction with the choices we are given and share a stubborn resolve to question the status quo. We keep asking the questions, “Why this coffee, this fuel tank, these noodles, this window, this cake? Why not this street, why not altogether, why not now?”

It’s not that we won’t take no for an answer, just over three years ago we stood on a Stanmore street corner in front of what was to become our first failed development application. Marrickville Council had informed us that a number of local residents had aired some concerns over the project. Fair enough, engaged locals are what we’re looking for... let’s engage. So, with starry eyed optimism, we sent out invitations to our prospective neighbours, inviting them to meet with us in a friendly forum, to share our vision and allay their uncertainty. Dan made coffee, Dimi baked brownies, we brought the kids for that wholesome family feel and we waited in the morning sun. 

This group had packed their preconceptions that morning but open minds were sadly left behind

The local Mayor turned up! On a Saturday! And she was on our side! Things were looking up. Little did we know that we had all walked into an ambush. Down the hill they came, armed with scowls, clad in neck braces, a gray zimmer framed cavalry. This group had packed their preconceptions that morning but open minds were sadly left behind. What came next was an old fashioned lynching, nothing we said could be heard over the baying of Cerberus, mythical demon dog with the three heads of Laws, Zemanek and Jones.

 SCENE OF THE LYNCHING: stanmore site and corner

SCENE OF THE LYNCHING: stanmore site and corner

After the fight, back in our loser’s locker room, it’s fair to say we were a shattered mess, gutted, to continue the sporting trope. These people simply didn’t want us, not in their backyard anyway that much was clear. That they didn’t know us was some consolation, that they really didn’t want to was more telling. I remember initially as a group we felt that this was another challenge to rise to, that stubbornness again. But gradually, over the coming days came a collective realisation that this would never be our neighbourhood, that any successes would be met with deeper resentment. So, while Marrickville Council were later to reject the application, spiritually we’d walked away long before and found ourselves in the very different land of Newtown.

... spiritually we’d walked away long before and found ourselves in the very different land of Newtown.

Rising Sun Workshop’s Newtown popup is one of our proudest moments to date and it very nearly didn’t happen. Our protracted battle with Marrickville Council over the Stanmore site and an ever constant wish to deliver for our members, led us to take a calculated risk and move into Lennox street without fully notifying council. Harley Davidson had also taken an interest and tasked us with rebuilding their brand new sportster in time for Throttle Roll at The Vic in just a couple of months time, we desperately needed a roof over our heads.

So, no more delays, no more tedious development applications, no more red tape, this was to be an in and out, hit and run mission with three objectives: build a bike, secure permanent digs somewhere and show how good a fully operational workshop cafe could be in the meantime. We’d stay under the radar, you know, one of those “low key” community-motorcycle-workshop-cum-ramen-bar-cafes-operating-seven-days-and-four-nights-a-week kinda things! Besides, a source from within council, our Deepthroat, thought that if we did rouse unwanted attention, it’d be at least two weeks before something would be done about it and even then we’d be given four weeks at least to clear out, just enough time to achieve mission impossible.

 Adrian with handy man darcy whitlam building building our temporary pop-up wall. photo: kate disher-quill

Adrian with handy man darcy whitlam building building our temporary pop-up wall. photo: kate disher-quill

But with every night there comes a dawn and if you have belief there comes resolve. We are stubborn. We hit the phones and took on council...

And so, with a little help from friends and a few long days, we had the thing built and ready by the eve of our planned soft opening, workshop gleaming, fridges full, tables set, when in walks The Enforcer. You know who he is before he introduces himself, council car, short sleeved white collar shirt, name tag, clipboard. Like a door knocking mormon with his Good Book full of penalty tickets and fines. We were to close the doors immediately, pack up and go, you’re finished, no ifs no buts. Oh, and pay this massive fine for being audacious. This was a new low.

But with every night there comes a dawn and if you have belief there comes resolve. We are stubborn. We hit the phones and took on council, we talked all day, literally all day. The front desk of any council is like a first line of defence, a mote perhaps. They’re there to tell you, “There’s no way you can file a Section 28 unless you completed a Request for Exemption 7C, which’ll need to be signed by a J.P, it’s all in the LEP and has to be endorsed by your LGA rep’s 2IC”.

“Can I speak with her?”

“Not without a P17....”

But I can say, from personal experience, that if you persist, plead and weep into the telephone long enough, you can get past the front line. And there, somewhere out the back, you will find a human, complete with ears, brain and heart, probably the Mayor or a Director of something. Our human at council granted us an eleventh hour reprieve effective immediately. We could open the cafe, but the union with the workshop however was still not a marriage recognised by the state.

 Soft launch of the pop-up in newtown. Photo: kate disher-quill

Soft launch of the pop-up in newtown. Photo: kate disher-quill

So of course we opened and of course we quietly operated the workshop too, because we believed there was no practical reason why we shouldn’t. There was no huge noise, no rebel motor gangs terrorising the streets, just impassioned people with a need for space and tools going quietly about their pastime while others slurped and sipped nearby.

We are so happy we did it. So happy that so many came along for the ride. I think we exceeded expectations, perhaps our own included. The Hillfighter was born, the cafe built a name for itself and was full of the best possible crowd, locals. We were part of a neighbourhood, a community. 

Bike by Rising Sun Workshop; Directed by Davros; Shot by Tyler Freeman Smith; Music Composition and Sound Design by John Vella; Words by Joshua Capelin; Voiced by Alex Relic, Rising Sun Workshop Member. The Hill Fighter is a custom build by Rising Sun Workshop members in partnership with Harley-Davidson Australia and The Shed.

As to the ramen thing, it was supposed to be a fun idea for a couple months, an exploration into a well lit culinary byroad that we’ve all ridden down at one time or another. I wasn’t completely naive, I knew ramen was a “thing”, bloggers would be fierce about it, particularly when the noodles were coming from a non Japanese guy in a makeshift kitchen in a warehouse. I started reading up, the first thing you learn is that there is very little practical information of quality available online, (though this is changing). Ramen chef’s are generally very protective of their recipes, sometimes this is because they’ve worked their arses off under a chef for years, squirrelling away secrets and money until they have enough of both to go it alone. Or, they don’t make what they serve at all, buying in broth concentrates and pre portioned chashu etc from one of a number of suppliers, (this is also kept highly secret).

The part you protect and the part you innovate has to move in parallel. Otherwise, a thousand years from now we will be exactly the same. By being innovative you keep tradition going
— Nameless miso craftsman in Kyoto

Another thing I began to notice when reading the comment threads of ramen Insta feeds and blogs etc was this preoccupation with the question, “Is it legit? Is it authentic?”, when responding to a review. My question back is, “what does that even mean?’ I’d say, if pressed, these online experts could name four styles of ramen, max. A textbook I’d had shipped from Japan showed me a Japanese broth map depicting hundreds of styles. So, it stands to reason that within each of these areas there must be interpretation and variance, individual chefs breathing themselves into their craft. This would mean for thousands upon thousands of different iterations of the dish. 

 The dark and the light ramen broths. photo: kate disher-quill

The dark and the light ramen broths. photo: kate disher-quill

Clearly, the key is to take the things you enjoy, chewy noodles, super tasty broth and delicious garnish, and express yourself from there while following the tenets laid down previously.With this realisation came the confidence to put my best versions forward and stand behind them. Recently, I heard a Japanese miso craftsman in Kyoto explain all that with much more zen like clarity than I have just done. He says; “We believe that protecting our tradition is to go forward. The part you protect and the part you innovate has to move in parallel. Otherwise, a thousand years from now we will be exactly the same. By being innovative you keep tradition going”.

Best results are in both achieved when a hand is kept on tradition while looking to the future.

I especially like the parallels that can be drawn here between this philosophy of the kitchen and the work that was being done across the floor in the workshop through thoughtful customisation of the motorbikes. Best results are in both achieved when a hand is kept on tradition while looking to the future.

The ramen we produced was really well received I think. To my knowledge, none of the supercritical, ramen bloggers wrote anything unkind and many more people said that they liked it very much, so I am happy. It’s far from perfect, I have a lot to learn, but I can say I think I gave it close to my all. 

Now, it seems that ramen and I are stuck with each other, anyone I’ve suggested to that it may not be part of the new menu, has looked at me with crazy eyes. I’m also looking forward to trying my hand at some other hotly debated and beloved dishes and seeing how much trouble that gets us into.

To say that we’re excited about the prospects, the possibilities, the permanence of the new location is putting it lightly, we are collectively nauseas at the thought, which has nothing to do with the money we’ll risk, or the scrutiny we’ll be under. It’s more the feeling of responsibility we share for our supporters, your faith and encouragement is honestly the only reason we've made it this far.