Brendan Pratt’s announcement that he’s trading Vasse Felix for a drive-through coffee shop and sandwich pit-stop with the crew from Margaret River Roasting Co made waves in the South West. Looking ahead to its opening, he gave us a sneak peek of what’s on the menu, with Bolognese toasties and house XO sauce top of mind.
Brendan Pratt’s move from Vasse Felix chef to partner in freshly announced drive-through, Coffee Heads, took many by surprise. Not least his new business partners James Tischhauser and Issac Kara of Margaret River Roasting Co. “Holy shit, talk about a power move, walking out at the peak of your career to go make sandwiches,” was, according to Pratt, Kara’s reaction. “There is something comedic about that,” he says, laughing.
But for a chef who led the kitchen in a venue that was named the WA Good Food Guide Restaurant of the Year in 2021, and came in at number 2 a year later, it isn’t unconsidered. “I think there’s a space here that’s not quite been explored as much as we think it could be,” says Pratt. He notes that the initial inspiration has been taken from the swathe of cut-above sandwich shops sweeping the nation, the likes of Hector’s Deli in Melbourne, say, which offers a short menu of classics – fresh or toasted – done very, very well. Focus at Coffee Heads is on the comfort and nostalgia of sangas and toasties, yet with Pratt’s high-end sensibility.
One inspiration, says Pratt, is chefs talking about what they eat post-service. And this plays into the menu. Think fried chicken, cheese and kimchi toasties, or the classic Bolognese sauce from the night before, again in toastie form. “When I first mentioned the Bolognese to the boys, both of them said ‘I don’t know, that sounds a bit weird’,” says Pratt. “James took one mouthful and said it reminded him of childhood.” Comfort is key. They’re not going to “pretend to be healthy,” says Pratt. Light and fresh elements will feature but “we’re not going to go down that healthy quinoa and roast pumpkin salad kind of vibe,” he says.
Fermentation is already underway. Those who’ve dined at Vasse Felix will know of Pratt’s love of house-made XO sauce, a staple on his menu renowned for its depth and savoury character. Thankfully, it’ll have a place at Coffee Heads: in the works is a mushroom toastie with added mushroom XO, provolone, seaweed, and hot sauce. And while he’d love to be making everything himself, Pratt says that’s “a romantic idea, but probably not achievable”. Limited in space, and aware of labour and staffing costs, Pratt will source from and collaborate with the likes of Margaret River’s Farm House, Cambray Cheese, and Marybrook Premium Produce who raise grass-fed, grain-free lamb. Flexibility in the menu will, he says, allow for seasonal specials like a spring-lamb gravy roll.
Issac Kara, who will oversee roasting and be on the tools day to day, says Coffee Heads will operate entirely as a standalone business from Margaret River Roasting Co. Kara mentions that he enjoys the “nerd side of coffee,” and while he gets to scratch that itch with Margaret River Roasting Co, ultimately with wholesale it might only be 10 per cent of people who want that niche product. “With Coffee Heads we have full control and autonomy over how that is produced and how it’s treated, essentially giving that same 10 per cent product to a wider market, and hopefully educating people at the same time,” he says.
Creating a signature blend is a balancing act, but it’ll be a “beautiful, easy-drinking coffee”, he says. One that’s not “too wild” while not being “too traditional.” Single origin will offer some flex, and there’ll be a rotation of batch brews. “Me and James, we pretty much only drink batch brew or pour-over,” says Kara. “We 100 per cent want to bring those options to the drive-through clientele; granted it’s probably not going to be pour-over because they’re super time consuming. But batch brew – really fresh, great quality coffee – affords us the ability to get some high-end coffees up.”
“Essentially we want to be the answer to Brendan’s food,” says Kara. “We want to make sure that our drive-through experience is as good as any high-end café experience.” On that note, they’ll break out of their core offering from time to time with tonic espressos, “cool concoctions”, and collaborations with friends in the coffee world.
For Pratt, he says he’ll miss working with the back- and front-of-house teams at Vasse Felix, who “excel in everything they do”. But he’s relishing the promise of not having to create under such scrutiny, the freedom to explore, and the chance to enjoy the occasional dinner gig without worrying that he’s putting pressure on his team. And his new partners are a good fit, he says. “I know how they work, I know they strive for quality and excellence, they’ve got a really good business, they employ people that have been there for quite a long time, and I guess their ethos is similar to mine in the way we like to treat our colleagues and the people we work with.”
While Vasse near Busselton is where Coffee Heads HQ is slated to open in winter, according to Kara, this is just the beginning. “We’ve got a whole bunch more coming,” he says.