It’s been less than five years since opening their Subiaco flagship, but Community Coffee Co. has been going from strength to strength ever since. In the ensuing years, they’ve expanding into another three locations – two in the CBD and another in South Perth.
It was at their original Subiaco location that their cult-favourite Friday souvlaki started. Grilled over charcoal, kept simple with just one meat – it was one of those “if you know, you know” propositions that could change a bleak lunchtime into something worth writing home about.
As well as the three cafes under the Community Coffee Co. banner, the team is also behind the excellent Swanbourne wine bar Vinotto – helmed by Justin Scarvaci in the kitchen and Caitlin Johnston front of house.
“We’ve been lucky with our key staff, we try and keep a good environment for them, retain them, keep them happy,” Phil Arnold, one of Community Coffee Co’s three owners (alongside Michael Roach and Laurence Greenfield) tells us over a coffee back in October, the noise of the coffee roaster humming in the background.
“We just look for creativity and let them do what they want, give them freedom – we don’t micromanage, it’s not our style. We hire people for a reason, to do a job, and we hire them on their skill set so we let them do that.”
When it comes to Caitlin and Justin, these two heavy hitters will be expanding their purview to include another venue – this time just around the corner from their Subiaco roastery.
The site was the home of George’s Meze for 21 years, until their closure last year – however the team will continue the Greek flavours with new venture Yiamas.
“The space loans itself to being Greek,” Phil explains.
“It’s kind of going off the Athenian courtyard sort of vibe. Obviously olive trees, olive tree colours in the fit out, that’s the sort of vibe we’re going for – relaxed and fun.”
“I have Greek background, and we started a thing on Fridays here with the souvlaki, and that had kind of taken off. I’ve always wanted to do a Greek restaurant, so when the opportunity came up that that space was available we jumped at it.”
“It’s going to be kind of like an ancient world mixed with a bit of modern, so a lot of meats on the spit, small meze plates. Taking influences from Cypriot and Lebanese food as well.”
“We’ll have a mix of new age wines and old world wines, a lot of salty Georgian and Lebanese wines as well, something different there. And obviously a big range of ouzo and tsipouro!”
In this game, one of the things we’re incredibly familiar with is the opening delay – and Yiamas has sadly been no exception. It was another five months before we had a chance to sit down with Caitlin and Justin amongst the hustle and bustle of the restaurant’s finishing touches.
Where once there was a worksite, now there is… Well, on this day, still a worksite, but one with stunning stone tiles and an enticingly curvaceous, cool to the touch, polished render bar. (Interiors are by Perth and Sydney-based designer Adyn Kelly.)
An appetising charcoal aroma floats out onto the street while the kitchen is in the final stages of menu testing, and boxes of wine and delicate glasses are starting to move from box to shelf. Greek music pumps through the venue, and Yiayia paces the courtyard, followed by a plume of smoke… Or is that a vape?
Luckily for Justin, Yiayia has approved the menu.
“She said my seasoning was great!”
He almost continues, then stops himself at the last second: “I’m not even going to tell you the recipe!”
“It’s Greek, but we’re looking at it from quite a broad angle,” Caitlin tells us.
“We’re not trying to say ‘This is traditionally what we’re eating in our households growing up’, we’re really trying to take a flavour profile and cooking it in a way that really nods to the tradition but trying not to appropriate and being respectful of where it’s coming from.”
“We can’t just go and serve a moussaka,” Justin adds. “We’re not Greek, it’s not our grandmother’s recipe, we just took inspiration from really old recipes. Bit of Turkish, bit of Levantine, quite a bit of Cypriot in there as well – we’ve taken some of those vibes so we’re not just hitting ‘Greek’.”
They are both fairly adamant: don’t expect it to recreate that holiday in Santorini.
“Making it relevant to where we are, and applying our own context,” Caitlin continues.
“There aren’t exactly the same ingredients, and intensity of certain things aren’t the same: rosemary from Perth is going to taste different!”
That aforementioned charcoal grill is leading the menu’s offerings, with souvlaki the star of the show – alongside plenty of snack-able, share-able, drink-friendly plates. Both Justin and Caitlin are particularly excited by a halloumi and chargrilled eggplant, crumbed and deep fried number.
(“You just want that, and some olives, and a glass of wine immediately when you sit down!” Caitlin exclaims.)
On the drinks front, Caitlin’s wine list juxtaposes the old world with the new – and the highbrow with the crowd-pleasing.
“Greek wines for sure. We’ve got some really cool and fun stuff, but also lots of really serious wines and everything in between! We’ve got some wine on tap so we can do half litre, litre carafes for groups – it’s delicious, and such an approachable price point.”
Over the course of five months, we wouldn’t have been surprised if the Yiamas that’s about to open looked markedly different to the one we heard about in October. Pleasingly, though – we’ve barely had to update anything.
“I don’t think we’ve changed the thought process the whole way through… We’ve paused, we’ve gone back, but we’ve just gained more knowledge and refined things. We’ve not changed the philosophy from day one, it was always the same – which is great,” Justin tells us.
“Because if you go away from something for a little while then come back to it…”
“It sometimes doesn’t feel right!” Caitlin offers. “You’re like, ‘I know so much more about it now so this doesn’t fit anymore’. But it’s actually been really nice learning more and getting more in-depth in the research and looking back on the stuff we designed five months ago and being like, we still feel good about that. It’s not that we haven’t changed it, because it’s a different season now, but the philosophy on it and that level of integrity we’re trying to bring to it.”
Yiamas is scheduled to open on Friday, March 24, and will be located at 26 Denis Street, Subiaco.
Photo credit: Dania Portman