Enter the latest and greatest power duo on the Fitzroy food scene, Mo Wyse and Shannon Martinez, with their first and formidable restaurant venture – Smith & Daughters.
Martinez, an award winning chef and former head guru of The Sweetwater Inn, and Wyse, the sleek, savvy businesswoman, have worked tirelessly together to bring life to Smith & Daughters, with a perfectly manicured paw settling on corners of an industry that Melbourne has never seen before. Get ready to dine on a Latino-inspired menu in their tip to tail polished chic space, with fresher than fresh cocktails, cold pressed juices, hot sauces made in house – and all without one single trace of an animal-based product.
At its heart, Smith & Daughters is unpretentious and ethically sound, and overflows with the aura of two people who are endlessly passionate and gushing with infectious enthusiasm. With a wealth of ideas and a knack for good taste, they're certainly set to make waves amongst the humble hipsters of the Northern suburbs.
I spoke to the ladies in question about Smith & Daughters' all female kitchen, vegan cheeses, and admired their banging 'dos.
TUL: Are you both from a cheffing background?
Shannon: Yeah, I've come most recently from head cheffing at Sweetwater Inn.
Mo: No, no, no. Business, marketing, large scale production. I moved here, got the job at The People's Market as their events and operations manager. Managed the space – it was full on, but it indoctrinated me to Melbourne. When we met it was like magnetic, we were like 'we need to do this'. Had to happen.
TUL: So, are you both vegan?
Mo: No, I'm a vegan.
Shannon: I'm not!
Mo: But that's why her food is so damn good.
TUL: Why so?
Mo: There's a lot of different angles you can take with our business – the name Smith & Daughters, we're women owning a business and we're a vegan restaurant – but it's not about typecasting who we are and what we do. The vegans will always come, they have the inside scoop, but it's more so to present veganism in a different way.
TUL: To avoid the bra-burning, hairy armpitted, yogi image one conjures when they think veganism?
Shannon: Yeah, it's not a hippy extreme thing, it just happens to not have animal product in it. It's just amazing, real food.
Mo: That's our asset, Shannon can take any kind of food and make it vegan, but not take anything away from it in terms of flavour or aesthetic. Shannon has done so many vegan menus as well, and they always explode.
Shannon: Yeah, when I started doing the vegan menus, I would take the regular menu and go through each of the ingredients, finding a substitute. A lot of people haven't been vegan their whole lives, so my way allows them to get a little nostalgic for the foods from their childhood, or when they weren't vegan.
TUL: But the cuisine at Smith & Daughters will be Latin based?
Mo: Shannon's held a lot of recipes up her sleeve for quite a while. Her background is Spanish, and I'm from the States, and it was one of those things that when we got together we were like, 'Mexican food, Spanish food in Australia, there's a lot of places doing it and they're doing it right', but we wanted to fit more into it.
Shannon: Yes. So I've grown up with that sort of food, old recipes passed down from generations. It really works as a broad cuisine, and I wanted to get away from doing American food – which I love, but I've been doing it for so long it'll be great to embrace the change. We can have Mexican, Spanish, Colombian; it's great.
TUL: That is something that's very prominent in Melbourne, people choosing a singular cuisine to focus on. Melburnians tend to choose places to go for their niche, their focus.
Shannon: Our menu has been carefully and painstakingly selected. I mean there are some places that are doing curries, pastas, roasts etc. and to me it's like, can you really be doing any of this all that well? I prefer to focus to make sure all of the meals complement each other.
Mo: That's the same thing for the name Smith & Daughters, we want to have the ability to expand and have different types of foods and venues attributed to our brand. Like maybe our next location will be a cafe, with fresh juice and coffee, so that we can sell some of the products we're making here, maybe then food trucks and catering.
TUL: Is the focus really going to be lunch and dinner?
Shannon: Yes, but we'll have brunch on the weekends. The whole idea of drinking with brunch is huge in the States but not so much here, so we really want to introduce that kind of dining experience.
Mo: And we have really amazing coffee and juice.
TUL: Who's doing your coffee?
Mo: Wide Open Road, they're amazing. The coffee is delicious.
Shannon: We are also about some serious serious juices.
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TUL: Oh yeah?
Mo: It's good to be experimental; some people are wanting to do juice cleanses or get supplements in their drinks, have a really hearty smoothie with cacao butter and things like that. But there's not really anywhere to get that, so we want to do it well.
Shannon: We're also big on the cocktails, only using fresh juices. So disappointing when you order a pina colada and you see them crack open a lid of Goulburn Valley. Really good quality stuff.
Mo: Another unique thing is that Shannon actually designed the whole cocktail menu with the food menu in mind, so all of the food goes with each of the cocktails specifically and is tailored for it. Everything that we're doing is entirely deliberate. For example, we're not using Coke on our soda list. It was a huge decision for us ethically, but we're sticking to our guns.
TUL: Where else will customers really see the intentional differences?
Mo: Well, we're not using dairy milk in our coffee. We'll have soy, coconut, almond, anything but.
Shannon: There's a million places to get a full cream coffee; why not try something different?
TUL: People are a lot more accepting in Melbourne, and willing to experience new things and travel to different suburbs for a new dining experience, particularly dietary specific food.
Mo: Definitely, that idea is expanding. Even in the States, you can see it creeping in. A lot of people who have come to us and said, 'Oh well, you know, veganism is a trend.' And there's absolutely no way that that's true! It's been around for thousands of years! People are only getting more and more conscious of health.
Shannon: I don't think a lot of our customers will even be vegan. People are cutting down a lot on their meat, and they love trying new things that have that healthy context. Vegan products are becoming a bit more accessible, and we're here to push that in the right direction.
TUL: Where are you sourcing all of your products from?
Shannon: We're making them. Making everything.
TUL: Cool. Are you going to sell them?
Mo: That's the next step. Hot sauces and dips, and, well, even vegan cheese. Shannon has actually mastered nut and coconut and all these different kinds of dairy-free cheese. Flavours that vegans haven't been able to have in years are now suddenly here! And they're so spot on and beautiful.
TUL: Is the process much different to making dairy cheese?
Shannon: It's really tricky; it's taken me over a year to nail it. But it's the same sort of process – they're still cultured and they're aged and dried, but we're just using different products.
Mo: It's one of those things that when we first got into this business, and she presented that idea, I said yep, that's going to change the world. It's really exciting.
TUL: Awesome, okay so let's talk the space. Did you design it yourselves?
Mo: We know what we like and what we think looks good, and that's how we decided to do it ourselves. We really wanted to have a grasp on every single little part of this place.
TUL: So you're both completely on the same level?
Mo: Yeah, it's actually crazy (laughs). It's almost unspoken…Importantly, we wanted to preserve the beauty of this space, the bluestone etc. Cleaning and sealing them really brought them to life. The space is over 150 years old. It was just kind of like, okay, what can we do to embrace it?
TUL: Have you loved the process of creating Smith & Daughters?
Shannon: The only thing is, I've had to change my sleeping patterns. Being a chef you work the craziest hours, but I'm slowly becoming a morning person.
Mo: She's killing it. I'm so impressed with her. Even the difficult stuff, we've loved. It's all fallen into place. Shannon actually said to me yesterday, every single thing that has happened has been exciting. Getting the space, using the space, seeing the staff in here for a staff dinner, everything has just been so fortunate.
Shannon: Most people aren't fortunate to do what they love. They work for money, or consequence, but we're lucky that we've had the opportunity to have this together. Do what we want to do. This is just not work. We haven't had a day off, but it's not work.
TUL: But that's the reason the response to you both has been so overwhelmingly positive: your passion. You can tell when a place is lifeless, and this is definitely the opposite.
Shannon: Well, when you sign a cheque and just give it to a designer, you feel like you lose control of your project a bit. You don't have a connection to the space. We've gotten dirty, painted the toilets until 1am…we know every single inch of the space.
Mo: We don't want to downplay anyone's experience, but this is something we've dreamt about for so long, why would we half ass it?
TUL: How did you source your staff?
Shannon: I've got a team that's been working with me since The Gasometer and they've followed me here, too. Also from Sweetwater and South. So we have such a good relationship with one another. We know how to work together.
Mo: I've never seen anything like it before.
Shannon: Also, there are 15 chefs, and 12 are female. Only the dishies are male! (Laughs). So not normal. The vibe is so different in my kitchen, there's none of that boys club – it's a much more supportive environment.
TUL: Fantastic. On another note, where are your favourite places to grab an easy bite when you're not working?
Shannon: A rad bowl of pho, or Sichuan House in the city.
Mo: Bangkok Rain in Carlton – badass Thai food and they're Sea Shepherd supporters.
TUL: What's the best way to spend $50 in Melbourne?
Shannon: I'm a real market person, so I'd go get some rad food from the Footscray Market.
Shannon: Like that Futurama episode where he gets a hundred bucks and only spends it on coffee (Laughs).
Mo: That's me.
TUL: Knock off drinks?
Mo: *Long pause.* Shannon's house.
TUL: What do you think you'd be doing if it weren't this?
Shannon: Music. I play bass, sing. Always music and food.
Mo: Probably trying to work on five different careers. I just want to be busy. The crazier the better. Fashion, hair, production. Everything. But this is too good. I just want to be doing this.
(Leaf eater? Check out our guide to Melbourne's best vegan!)
Smith & Daughters will open on March 21st for dinner service only
Smith & Daughters | 175 Brunswick Street in Fitzroy
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Images: Tash Sorensen, The Urban List