2 minutes with Jane Marx
Occupation: Business Owner
Business: Merchant Road Catering (previously Long Street Coffee)
How did you come to develop the idea for Long Street?
Long Street is a combination of my two big passions, working with young refugees and creating experiences for people through food. I’d had a lot of hospitality experience prior to opening Long Street, I’d also spent a few years volunteering with people seeking asylum and refugees. One experience that had a big impact on me, was the time I spent volunteering as an English-language tutor to young women who were recent arrivals, their stories of survival were hugely inspiring. I knew shortly after finishing university that I wanted to use my skills to provide better opportunities to people who struggled to secure their first job here, and hospitality, while certainly not easy, is a really good entry point into the Australian workforce for young people.
Can you explain the structure of how your business works, and how the mentoring and training system works?
The café is structured and run like a regular business. Alongside that, we run a not-for-profit, through which we apply for grants and receive donations to partly fund the paid, hands-on hospitality training we provide onsite at the café. It is a bit of a hybrid structure, but for us, it’s worked really effectively. For me, there was no other point to doing this. I don’t want to run a conventional business. Often we’ll look around the cafe at our trainees working and think, it would just be so boring if they weren’t here. People from different cultural backgrounds add a different element to that social setting - they add a level of warmth that wouldn’t be there otherwise.
What are your more immediate plans for the business and where do you see it going in the future?
Last year I secured some funding to pilot a catering and events expansion. Over three months last year, we ran a pilot of planned catering events and it was really successful. It was in the lead-up to Christmas, so right in season, but the response we had was overwhelming. In terms of what the future looks like, I want to transition fully to catering and managing events. The cafe is very limited to what we can offer in terms of size. For every one position, we could get fifty applications, we’re not even close to meeting the demands. Those events enable us to train and employ as many people as possible. I’d also like to focus on providing opportunities for refugee women to connect with women who have industry experience that would like to become a mentor and give back.
How do you think you’ll go about setting up a mentorship program?
I don’t know yet, is the short answer. Since we started Long Street, we’ve had an overwhelming number of male applicants. We work with settlement service organisations to source for potential candidates and I’ve been asking for the past 12 months, for them to at least attempt to send through a 50/50 split in applications. That’s been something they haven’t been able to do, not through lack of trying. They simply don’t have access to vast numbers of refugee women that are seeking employment, and that’s not to say they aren’t out there. It’s four times harder for refugee women to secure employment than it is for their male counterparts, that’s something I want to work towards changing.
For mentoring it’s the opposite, you always have large numbers of women with Australian professional work experience looking to mentor, and specifically, mentor women from refugee backgrounds. And so, the mentoring program is something I’m hoping to develop in the not-too-distant future.
A mentorship program for refugee women would make their experience of entering the workforce so different.
Yes, certainly. Lots of the young women I’ve been working with feel more comfortable working with someone one-on-one for a variety of reasons. Considering there’s no shortage of mentors available it makes sense to structure the training this way. In a way, it’s an extension, but also beyond what we’ve been doing at Long Street.
Keep up to date with Jane's plans and upcoming events at Long Street via their Instagram @merchantroadmelb
Interview by Ella Mittas. Ella is a Melbourne-based chef who runs regular Greek food pop-ups @ela_melbourne