Until today, when I opened the door and walked into the construction site, I’d assumed it was a clothing store landing at 315 Carrall (the old Brickyard location). Imagine my surprise when I learned that Nelson The Seagull was going to be a bakery and cafe from a triumvirate of young South Africans (one of whom went to my alma mater, the lovely University of Cape Town). Jodie Balfour and siblings Jonathan and Lee seem genuinely super keen to do something a little different from everyone else and on making the neighbourhood just a little bit better, one coffee and ciabatta loaf at a time.
Like most of the spaces in the 300 block of Carrall (between Hastings and Cordova in the heart of Gastown), the voluminous, open concept space has got gorgeous old bones that show solid with incorruptible character. What’s left of the original mosaic floor (plenty of it) has been buffed and the gaps have been polished down with cement. Natural light will do wonders for it once the guard paper comes off the windowed frontage. The paneled ceilings are glowing white and look to have been restored (but not too perfectly), and they appear to be furnishing to compliment with ancient stools, a roughly-hewn plank table and other bits of “that’s really nice”. It’s not all that tricky to imagine what it’ll look like as a finished product. For sure their aesthetics are in tune with the building’s age and architecture, which counts as a win in my book. So what do they have planned?
Bread and coffee. That pretty much sums up what we are all about. At least it should, if you have the same romantic visions of how bread and coffee should be done as we do. Nothing instant, no flavour shots, no anonymous frozen ingredients, nothing wrapped in suffocating plastic and no destroyed, decaf coffee. Just fresh bread, along with local organic fare, great company, sun stained afternoons and the best espresso we can pull. We wanted to make a space where every meal feels like a lazy summer day spent with friends, leisurely snacking on simple but delicious food. It hasn’t been easy, building every table from scratch, including the main counter, laying the concrete floor in the kitchen ourselves and designing the menu from a hazy vision that existed only in our daydreams. The shop is more than just a business for us, it is what our lives are about.
Go tell it on the mountain. They’re baking their stuff, making sandwiches and soups, in-house picnic platters, fresh fruit, their own line of ginger beers and lemonades and keeping the prices affordable. They’ll have wireless, couches, a nice-sized communal table, and from what I could see of their vinyl collection, some pretty sweet tunes to boot. It sounds like it’ll be a cool place to just kick back (“We don’t mind if people have one coffee and stay all day” Lee said).
Nelson The Seagull will be open from 7am until whenever they find the right groove. Count on breakfasts and lunches. There will be no liquor license, and since bakers need some sleep, I don’t expect we’ll see any evenings go later than 7pm, except on once-a-month nights when they’ll be hosting a private dinner to women living upstairs under the benign umbrella of the Portland Hotel Society.
What’s in a name? Nelson The Seagull is an obscure nod to Dawn & Des Linbergh’s 1971 folk-environmentalist track The Seagull’s Name Was Nelson, which grew in popularity and mythic significance for many South African’s during Nelson Mandela’s 27 years in prison; rising as high as #4 on Springbok Radio (listen).
Opening day is Wednesday the 18th of May.