Social enterprise cafes, restaurants, coffee & catering in Melbourne: so many choices!
I love Victoria’s capital city Melbourne, and I love supporting social enterprise cafes and restaurants whenever we’re out and about. Melbourne is known for its cafe culture and foodie scene, and now the amount of ethical and responsible choices is so big, you’ll struggle to sample them all in one trip!
Listed below are the cafes, restaurants, coffee stands and catering companies who put people over profit and still serve up amazing food and drinks.
Social enterprise cafes and coffee stands in Melbourne
Good 2 Go, in famous street art hotspot Hosier Lane, is a funky little cafe serving a small menu of items perfect for breakkie or lunch on the run.
The cafe is an initiative of Youth Projects and is set up to give training and real-world experience to young people who face barriers to employment. Extra support is also provided if needed by mental health and AOD professionals.
Food and drinks are freshly made-to-order at Good2Go, and the range of toasted sandwiches and jaffles suits kids and adults alike. Their smoothies are awesome and are served in compostable cups, if you didn’t BYO. They also make açai bowls, hot drinks (including proper chai steeped to perfection), and juices and ice-creams.
A lovely feature of Good2Go is that you can pay it forward buy pre-purchasing a coffee or food for someone experiencing homelessness, too. Or you can donate to their training fund for homeless youth.
Hosier Lane is a very popular tourist attraction so this cafe has become well known in only five years of operation. It’s a great spot to get some food and drinks to cool off; or more likely, warm up! The keen and friendly staff are willing to have a chat while you wait for your order to be made.
Opening times: 8am — 3pm Monday to Friday.
Address: 7-9 Hosier Lane, Melbourne, 3000.
Phone: (03) 9945 2100.
Best choice for: Fresh picnic food and on-the-go drinks near Federation Square. We loved exploring the street art and then relaxing in Fed Square with our lunch.
House of Cards Espresso
House of Cards provides socially- and environmentally-sustainable coffee over three University campuses in Melbourne. They donate a portion of their profits each month to organisations across four categories: Social, Environmental, Cultural and Social. The actual charities change each month and the amount given is calculated from customer’s votes! Each customer gets a playing card with their purchase, and selects the charity they’d like their donation to go towards.
House of Cards also pays above award rates to their staff, incentivise the use of BYO cups, and uses BioPak for all of their cups/lids/paper straws/sandwich packaging. They also create breakfast, lunch and snacks for busy University students and staff.
University of Melbourne: Parkville Campus
Opening times: Monday to Thursday: 7:00am – 6:00pm, Friday 7:00am – 5:00pm. Closed weekends.
Address: Engineering Lane, Parkville, 3052
Boyd Community Hub
Opening times: Monday to Friday: 6:15am – 4:00pm, Saturday: 7:30am – 2:00pm.
Address: 207 City Road, Southbank, 3006
La Trobe University
Opening times: Monday to Friday: 7:00am – 4:00pm. Closed weekends.
Address: Thomas Cherry Building, Western Forecourt, Science Drive, Bundoora 3086
Merri Cafe at CERES Community Environment Park
CERES (pronounced ‘series’) is a social enterprise hub in Brunswick East, alongside the Merri Creek. The whole complex is amazing: a real success story that has revitalised an old landfill site into a huge organic garden and many social enterprises, including a nursery, two market gardens, and a grocery store and delivery service. CERES also provides education and training programs, many opportunities for the community to get involved with their work, and even a solar-powered electric vehicle charging point!
Merri Cafe is within the complex and uses fresh produce grown at CERES in their dishes. It’s a bright and welcoming cafe with a good range of breakfast and lunch options, including vegan and gluten-free choices and plant-based milks.
All of the cafe’s supplies are sustainably-sourced, local wherever possible, and minimally-packaged, so you really can feel great about eating here!
Opening times: 7 days a week from 9am — 3pm.
Address: Corner Roberts & Stewart Streets, Brunswick East, 3057.
Phone: (03) 9389 0166.
Best choice for: When you have some time to explore the amazing hub! If you need some sustainable groceries or native plants, shop at CERES and enjoy a meal or cuppa at the cafe, too. The Visitor Centre is also well worth a look, and strolling around the delightful gardens — spotting chooks and mosaic sculptures along the way– is enjoyable for kids as well as adults. There’s also a children’s play area with a sandpit and diggers near the grocery store.
For Change Co
For Change Co is a social enterprise that aims to eliminate youth homelessness. One hundred percent of the profits from their businesses are used to help young people change their lives, by empowering them with a hospitality training program, and partnering with Launch Housing to provide rent subsidies and sustainable housing solutions. All of their trainees have successfully completed the training program, which focuses on building confidence as well as workplace skills.
For Change also features many environmentally responsible initiatives, including discounts for reusable cups, food waste composting, compostable packaging and paper straws, and recycling for plastic lids into prosthetic limbs via Envision Hands.
Their cafes and coffee stands are:
For Change Cafe Brunswick
The original cafe is located in Brunswick, and uses 100% renewable energy. The menu is fully vegetarian and features a range of fresh toasties, artisanal porridge and specialty coffee.
Opening times: Monday – Friday 7am – 2:30pm, Saturday & Sunday 8am – 3:00pm
Address: 6 Florence St, Brunswick, 3056.
For Change Cafe Melbourne Uni
For Change Melbourne Uni is located at the Parkville Campus of the University of Melbourne, inside a recycled shipping container! It also has a plant-based menu which features many gluten-free choices, vegan treats and of course, great coffee.
Opening times: Monday – Friday 8.30am – 3.30pm
Address: University of Melbourne Parkville Campus, 3052: Cnr. Tin Alley & Union St.
Coffee for Change
Formerly known asThe Coffee Cart, this is where all Society Melbourne trainees start their training. The cart sells hot drinks, jaffles and sweet treats, with all proceeds going towards disrupting the youth homelessness cycle.
Opening times: Monday – Friday 7.30am – 3.30pm
Address: RMIT Training, 235-351 Bourke Street, 3000.
STREAT is a social enterprise that supports disadvantaged and homeless youth. They support young people by offering a training pathway in their cafe and coffee stands, which focuses on giving them the skills and confidence to move on to other employment.
STREAT uses local and sustainable ingredients, and has their own bakery and coffee roasting facility to supply their cafes and wholesale orders. They also promote reusable options and offer a borrow system for coffee cups with a refundable deposit.
We visited STREAT’s Bourke Street coffee stand, which also sells freshly baked snacks like pretzels, cakes and pastries. It had a great vibe, friendly staff, quick service and lovely hot drinks: what more could we ask for?
Their cafe on Cromwell Street is licensed and has a full breakfast and lunch menu, which includes standard fare as well as more worldly dishes. It’s located in an 1860’s manor, and features outdoor seating in the garden as well as function rooms and the bakery and coffee roastery.
Opening times: Monday – Friday 7.30am – 4pm, Weekends 8am – 4pm (kitchen closes at 3pm)
Address: 66 Cromwell Street, Collingwood, 3066.
Phone: (613) 9629 4222.
Best choice for: Supporting youth while enjoying great food and drinks in a child- and pet-friendly environment.
STREAT coffee stands
Bourke St RACV
Opening times: Monday – Thursday 7.30am – 4pm, Friday 7.30am – 3.00pm
Address: 485 Bourke St, Melbourne, 3000.
Opening times: Monday – Friday 7.00am – 5.30pm, Saturday 8.30am – 4.00pm, Sunday 9.00am – 3.00pm
Address: Latrobe St, Melbourne, 3000: entrance above train station elevators.
Opening times: Monday – Friday 8am – 4pm (academic term only)
Address: Garden Building on Bowen Street, Melbourne, 3000.
Wild Timor Coffee Coburg
Wild Timor Coffee was founded by Australian peacekeeping soldiers in 2012, who made friends with local people in Timor-Leste. They started the company to buy coffee beans at a fair price from the Timorese, as they were being exploited by coffee brokers.
Wild Timor is a registered social enterprise and in addition to the cafe in Coburg, they sell organic coffee beans (single packs, subscriptions or fundraising kits) and other hot drink ingredients from their online store.
Funds raised have helped with many things for the people in Timor-Leste, including school uniforms, hospitality scholarships, water tanks, and support for a birthing centre and pre-school. They also donate to the Australian Young Veterans program.
The cafe serves up modern breakfast and lunch options like avo toast, burgers and smoothies, as well as Timorese-inspired dishes like sweet and sour eggs, curries and a Timorese buddha bowl. Vegan, vegetarian and meaty options are available.
Address: Wild Timor Coffee Co, 282 Sydney Rd, Melbourne, Victoria 3058, Australia
Opening Hours: Monday – Friday: 8am – 3pm, Saturday – Sunday: 8am – 3pm
Phone : 0404 418 113
Social enterprise restaurants Melbourne
Charcoal Lane is a unique restaurant that serves up modern Australian food with a focus on native plants and meats. It’s also a social enterprise run by Mission Australia, which trains Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth to achieve a Certificate II in Hospitality. Their program is flexible, hands-on, nationally-accredited, and “supports the cultural wellness of participants” with a view to graduates achieving all the skills needed for successful employment in hospitality.
The food is outstanding, and all dietary requirements are catered for. It’s a fancy place and the prices reflect that, but the dishes are absolutely worth it: especially when you know their profits are being used to help disadvantaged youth.
There’s an a la carte menu (starters $20, mains $31-$36, desserts $17) and a set menu for groups of eight or more (two courses $55, three courses $70). Bookings are definitely recommended as it’s a popular place for events as well as dining out. Harry and Meghan even came to visit Charcoal Lane in 2018!
I visited Charcoal Lane with the Melbourne chapter of Impact Travel Alliance, and we all really enjoyed the experience. The restaurant has a wonderful atmosphere in addition to the food, and our waiter JP was lovely and charismatic, and made the night extra special for our group.
Below: my raw vegan rosella cheesecake was delicious! Many native plants and seeds some together in this dish.
Opening times: Lunch 12 — 3pm, dinner from 6pm Tuesday — Saturday
Address: 136 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, 3065.
Phone: (03) 9418 3400.
Best choice for: Sampling some of Australia’s best food and native ingredients in a beautiful environment. It’s not the best choice for young children or people on a budget, but if the dishes are calling you, make it work!
Lentil as Anything
For over 20 years, Lentil as Anything has been one of the pioneering social enterprises in Australia. They’ve proved it can be a success by expanding from their original restaurant in St Kilda to opening two more in Melbourne and one in Sydney.
Lentil as Anything simply provides food to anyone who needs it. There are no set prices so customers can pay what they can, what they think the meal is worth, or donate their labour or skills in return. This model has influenced many other organisations around the world, and is continually bringing communities together.
As well as helping people to eat Lentil is involved in many projects, including Food Without Borders, which
“recovers quality food that may be destined for the dump because of dented packaging, slight bruising, or simply because it cannot be sold as ‘fresh’ the next day.
We connect with local businesses in our community and save the food they can no longer sell. This produce is made available in our grocery store [the Inconvenience Store] or used in our kitchens to provide Pay-As-You-Feel food to our community.”
The food is all vegan or vegetarian, and St Kilda’s premise boasts their famous Green Lentil Burger and plant-based Okonomiyaki alongside salads, a curry and chia pudding. The Abbotsford and Thornbury restaurants have an open menu which changes daily in response to their produce.
Best choice for: Hearty plant-based food made with love.
Opening times: Breakfast 9:00am to 11:30pm / Lunch 12:00am to 4:00pm / Dinner 5:30pm to 9:00pm
Address: 1/3 St Heliers St, Abbotsford, 3067.
Phone: (03) 9419 6444.
Opening times: Lunch 12:00pm to 5:00pm / Dinner 5:30pm to 9:00pm daily
Address: 41 Blessington St, St Kilda, 3182.
Phone: 0424 345 368.
Opening times: Brunch 12:00pm to 3:00pm / Dinner 6:00pm to 9:00pm
Address: 562-564 High St, Thornbury, 3071.
Phone: 0406 101 181.
Tamil Feasts at CERES
Tamil Feasts was started by two Tamil men, Sri and Nirma. After they were released from 6½ years in detention for seeking asylum in Australia they found it very difficult to find work, but sold out two feasts of Sri Lankan food within seven days of posting the tickets online! When their friends Niro and Bhaji were also released from detention they expanded their menu with more items, and since have been serving meat and vegan feasts twice a week to hundreds of happy customers.
Tamil Feasts keeps these men employed as they make a life in Australia, and highlights their delicious homeland foods for Melbournians and visitors to enjoy. Volunteer staff help prepare and serve the feasts, showing their support of asylum seekers in the process.
They serve a set three-course meal for which you must book in advance, and choose whether you’re eating meat or vegan dishes. You can also buy extras in your own containers after your meal and have lunch ready for the following day, too!
Adult feasts, served in traditional Thali plates, are $30/$35. Children’s feast plates (without the spice!) are $20.
Opening times: Thursday and Friday nights, starting at 7pm.
Address: Cnr Roberts & Stewart Sts, Brunswick East, 3057.
Phone: (03) 9389 0128 or Book Online Here.
Social enterprise catering companies in Melbourne.
Yes, catering for business meetings, functions, or a special occasion can support a cause you’re passionate about, too! Some of the cafes and restaurants above provide catering services also: below are their direct catering links.
Charcoal Lane catering and events: supporting Indigenous youth.
Charcoal Lane can cater an all-day conference, a cocktail style event or fully staffed sit down dinner, showcasing Australian native produce and supporting Indigenous trainees in the process.
Contact them on (03) 9418 3400 or email@example.com for more information.
Crepes for Change: supporting youth homelessness
Crepes for Change is a catering company run by Society Melbourne, serving up sweet crêpes, savoury crêpes and coffee. They’re available for hire for events, markets and festivals across Victoria. Money raised from all bookings supports youth at risk or already experiencing homelessness.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org for enquiries and bookings.
Lentil as Anything catering: supporting anyone who can’t pay for a meal
Lentil as Anything can cater vegan and vegetarian food for weddings, corporate events, high tea, market stalls, lunches and dinner parties of any size. Wherever possible they source ingredients from Food Without Borders and they compost all scraps after the event.
Contact them on 0432 777 836 (Mon — Fri 9am — 5pm) or email@example.com for more information.
The Sorghum Sisters African Catering: supporting refugee and migrant women
The Sorghum Sisters is a social enterprise and an employment training pathway, providing practical skills and work experience to refugee and migrant women. It was started by African refugees Siti Ibrahim, Nuria Khalil and Rahma Ibrahim, and has expanded to becoming a thriving catering business and training program.
The Sorghum Sisters serve up delicious Halal African cuisine that can be vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free on request. Lunch, dinner, morning or afternoon teas are catered for.
I’m sure this has given you many options for finding food in Melbourne that nourishes you and makes a difference to others. If there’s a business I’ve missed, please let me know and I’ll be glad to include them!
Which of these cafes and restaurants have you tried already? Which will you support next? Let us know in the comments below.
- On one of my trips, I rode an e-bike in Melbourne! Read all about the experience to see if it appeals to you too.
- Our other Australian adventures include taking an Adelaide to Uluru Road Trip, enjoying the stunning region of Kununurra in Western Australia, and Camping at Mungo National Park, New South Wales.
- When we were in Siem Reap, Cambodia, we also supported many social enterprise cafes and restaurants. Read all about it and other ways we supported local people in my Responsible Travel Guide to Siem Reap.
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