We try to keep things pretty positive over here, but even we (rays of sunshine that we are) aren’t impervious to the bitterness that comes when a favourite spot closes down. When that spot is Soul Provider’s Yagan Square store? Well, there’s a lot to unpack there, but long story short – we enjoyed some post-work po’ boys and that was taken away. At least, until the arrival of Duncan Street Store in the thriving foodie capital of Perth – Victoria Park.
We had a chat with Vital Syverin, owner of Soul Provider Catering and the newly-opened Duncan Street Store, to chat about the humble neighbourhood corner store, beef patties, and why you absolutely shouldn’t bring up the movie Chef at your next food truck visit.
Originally from Haiti, Vital grew up in Canada and has spent the past 18 years in Australia. “Mostly Melbourne, and then moved across here,” he tells us over a cup of coffee in the courtyard at the front of Duncan Street Store. Vital started Soul Provider way back in 2012, immediately launching the catering side of the business – which has remained his bread and butter through the years, and established Soul Provider as one of Perth’s most sought-after wedding caterers.
“Because my background was cooking, I just started straight into catering […] And then, next thing I knew, every weekend, I was doing two or three weddings, you know? And that’s how it is now…”
The level of success is, we think, understandable – his offerings are warm and welcoming, nourishing yet decadent, unpretentious yet refined. Cool and different without trying too hard. Exactly the balance that many couples hope to strike on their wedding day.
“So my food is mostly Southern American, New Orleans and Caribbean anyways,” he explains. “The food is food that I used to eat when I was a kid. Food that I’ve eaten on my travels, like I never lived in New Orleans but I’ve travelled around New Orleans.”
“I love the food – you know, my favourite plate of food that I can ever remember eating is seafood gumbo, on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Forever in my mind. […] I can’t even remember, like, the place or the name of the place and you know, I just remember the feeling like, ‘Oh my god, that is the greatest thing’. And I was like, for dessert, I’ll have a creme brulée,” Vital gestures, indicating a huge bowl, then mimics the crack as the spoon hits the caramel top. “Oh, and finished with beignets. Gotta finish with beignets!” You can practically hear the jazz in the distance as he describes it.
2014 saw the addition of the truck, which placed Soul Provider at the forefront of the food truck boom – alongside big-hitters like Comida do Sul and Eat No Evil (who have each transitioned to well-loved brick and mortars Madalena’s and La Cabaña, respectively). The food truck hustle isn’t without its drawbacks, though. We just can’t help ourselves: “It’s just like the movie Chef, right? It’s just the same!”
Vital manages to sigh and laugh at the same time, “Don’t mention that movie to me!”
“Everyone’s like, ‘Have you seen the movie Chef?! […] That’s exactly like you!’ A lot of people don’t understand what actually happens behind the scenes.”
There’s a romantic notion that food trucks give a huge amount of freedom to chefs – a kind of sun-soaked, nomadic lifestyle co-starring Scarlett Johansson. The 2021 reality though, is a bit less rosy: “In the truck game, it’s become very unpredictable. Where, you know, it costs you a lot of money to get out the door, and you probably are not gonna see any of that money. It could cost me a thousand bucks to get out the door. You’ve got to pay staff. You’ve got to pay for petrol. You’ve gotta pay rego, you’ve got to pay all these things. People think with food trucks, it’s just, you roll up…”
So while there’s a new truck in the works for Soul Provider, we don’t expect to see it popping up at night markets any time soon. Regardless, for now we can look forward to everything Duncan Street has to offer – and ironically, it’s provided a lot of the freedoms associated with the food truck game: “I moved in here about four months ago. This was just always something that I wanted, a corner store, little bodega to build up in the middle of a neighbourhood. Just to service the neighbourhood. And to kind of…cook whatever I want, whenever I want, open whenever I want.”
The cafe has community DNA already, with the opportunity coming up over a morning coffee in the courtyard. “I literally used to live 50 metres up the road!” Formerly a corner store, there are still locals dropping in, reminiscing about buying lollies or cigarettes there throughout the decades – and he envisions revisiting this in the future, with an adjoining room potentially becoming a retail space for milk, lollies and other corner store staples.
Positioned amongst a mixture of local schools, businesses and residential streets, the cafe finds the balance between grabbing a quick coffee for the road, or sitting down to a nourishing lunch – but the thing we’re most excited about? West Indian Wednesdays. Opening one night a week, Duncan Street Store will be serving up their signature mix of soul food, with a distinctly Caribbean flavour.
“Yeah, so I tried to do a lot of the food that I do in in the food truck… A lot of the old favourites, whether it’s the chicken wings with bourbon barbecue sauce, the Haitian soul plate. You know, your plantains are still on there, mac and cheese comes in and out sometimes. But now we go a little bit more into the Caribbean with some goat curries, we’re doing roti, rice and peas…. Just a meal that hugs you. Hugs you and puts you to sleep!”
With only 20 seats, takeaway is encouraged – with many locals choosing to wander down and take their food home, but there’s also a park right across the road, perfect for lounging around in a post-dinner haze. BYO is welcome, with talk of possible relaxed Sunday Sessions in the future. To be honest, we can already see ourselves sitting in the courtyard with a beer in hand.
If you can’t make it on Wednesday nights, don’t worry – Vital’s still waking up in the wee hours of the morning to hand make the cafe’s daily selections: “I still wake up to bake the pies. I bake sausage rolls in the morning. So everything that you see in the cabinet here, that’s fresh daily… But the stuff that I don’t make or when I can’t be bothered baking is from a little shop called Flowers and Flour on Albany Highway. She makes one of the best cinnamon scrolls in town.”
As well as the ubiquitous pies and sausage rolls, you’ll also be able to get your hands on beef patties – unleashing a flurried discussion of semantics, they’re a bodega stalwart – Jamaica’s answer to the beef pasty. “A lot of people read the menu and they’re like ‘Rissoles? I don’t want a rissole.’ Not quite!”
Duncan Street Store
41 Duncan Street, Victoria Park
Monday to Friday: 6:30am-2:00pm
Wednesday nights 5:00pm-8:00pm
All images by Hannah Jones