Melbourne is famous for alleyway cafés, but Kinship & Co is the only one I’ve encountered where the staff run a relentless onslaught of banter that rivals The Muppet Show, regulars are nicknamed after fictional serial killers, and the tongue-in-cheek pop music referencing jaffles make working in the soulless corporate side of the Melbourne CBD considerably more tolerable and exponentially more delicious.
It’s a slice of Fitzroy in the skyscraper part of the city, and it’s saved my sanity on numerous occasions. The personalities are as good as the coffee – which is to say, damn good – and the man at the helm, Goran Bos, has filled every crevice of the shop with his heart and soul.
After living in Mexico for a year, Goran returned to his office job in Melbourne and quickly realised his disillusionment with the 9–5 grind.
“I just snapped,” he says. “I thought: I can’t do this. If I don’t change now, then I’ll have to stay in an office job and be miserable. And I always wanted to have a place, a little café.”
In a back alley off Bourke Street, he spotted a strange space on the corner – a wall with a double door, a former substation. A few enquiries later, Goran was on track to transforming it into the future Kinship & Co, a café built entirely from his own innovation and injected with a plethora of pop culture and botany.
Goran’s background spans hospitality, training in the Meisner technique of acting, office work and experience in TV, film and theatre. It was the theatre tech – in particular, set design and building – that proved incredibly useful to getting Kinship & Co off the ground.
“I built Kinship myself. I think a lot of cafes spend so much on fitouts – by the time they’re open, they’re at least a couple of hundred thousand dollars in debt. But I started on zero. I thought: why do I have to conform to the template of how you’re supposed to build a shop? So I got creative. We built Kinship from scaffolding and old fences, from factories that press metal and have bits and pieces lying around.”
“My background helped build Kinship because I got creative on materials, with building a shop on no budget. People kept telling me ‘You’re mad, you’re never going to finish it, you need a couple of hundred thousand to build a shop,’ and I was like: why? I never understood that.
I never understood why they couldn’t pick up a piece of wood and look at it differently. For me, that’s what creativity is: looking at something in a different way.
He’s certainly created a very different space. Part of the appeal of visiting Kinship & Co – aside from the excellent coffee and amusing decor – is that you almost always get a free show. When I ask Goran what makes a good coffee, I inadvertently start a bickering match between him and the barista, Matt.
“Coffee is an acquired taste,” Goran begins. “For me, you have to have good blends. Then you have to have a good machine. Without one, you’re losing what that blend can actually give you. And then obviously you gotta know what you’re doing with the machine… but most of the work’s done by the machine.”
In mock indignation, Matt interrupts the interview by clanking on the machine over and over again.
“Hey! We’re recording here!” Goran yells. “There’s baristas like Matt, who think –”
“It’s all about staff!” Matt yells back.
“– they’re fantastic, but it’s not that. He just presses buttons.”
“It’s all. About. Staff.”
“It’s all about button-pressing,” Goran says, ignoring Matt’s huffing in the background. “Then knowing how many grams go in, how many grams come out. You have to know your bean to extract that out of your bean – we use Industry Beans. We set the machine to what the bean needs: specific temperature, specific grind, and time. Obviously good milk as well. It’s gotta complement the coffee.”
“Then there’s the person cutting the milk and putting it all together,” he finally concedes, smiling slyly. “So the barista has a bit of technique. But they make themselves out to be a lot bigger than they really are. Like someone I know.”
Matt spends the rest of the interview glowering behind the coffee machine.
I try to steer the conversation into less treacherous waters, and we talk about the fear factor in starting your own business. “My greatest fear with Kinship & Co was that it would fail,” Goran says. “I had offers on the shop in my first year. I could have sold it, made a little bit of money; it would have been easy. But I wasn’t ready. And I hung on.”
Hanging on resulted in one of the greatest satisfactions: the joy of having created something, and seeing other people engage with it. For Goran, this happens “when I see the café buzzing. It’s just a really nice environment. People enjoy it, enjoy the coffee, the friendships. That’s the most rewarding thing. I stand back and go: this is something I created.”
Finally, I ask Goran what advice he would give to anyone wanting to start their own business. His answer is both encouraging and pragmatic:
“I tell this to a lot of people: just fucking do it. Even if it fails, successful people have all failed. They just picked themselves up and went for it again. Everyone’s scared of failure – and so am I. You just have to think outside the box. If you want to do something, do it. Don’t listen to anyone else.”
And then, with his trademark poker face:
“Unless you’re selling crack cocaine.”
To sample some of the best coffee and jaffles in the CBD served with a hearty slice of comedic gold, visit Kinship & Co between Monday to Friday from 7am–4pm at 11 Gallagher Place, Melbourne CBD (between Bourke and Little Collins Streets, rear of 540 Little Collins Street).
Photography by Elly Freer.