Photos by Daniel Brown
As we approach a full year of COVID-19 shut-downs and travel bans, even the coziest of homebodies are feeling a little stir crazy. For many, 2020 began as the year for big hairy goals, seeing new places, and learning new things. And while we’ve definitely learned a lot, the most exciting thing we’ve seen probably looked something like an Amazon package filled with fuzzy socks.
But through all the pendulum highs and lows of this year, a small Aussie oasis has been budding right under our noses. Travel junkies rejoice! You’ll get to see Melbourne this year after all.
Over the past 10 years, Australian-style cafés have been growing more and more popular in the foodie scenes of New York and L.A. but had yet to make their way down south of Battery Park. Be it here in the States or down under, that authentic Aussie brunch experience was still at least a plane ride away. Enter Kate Ross, creator and owner of Hearts East Nashville.
In a one-of-a-kind renovated garage, Kate has created a tiny slice of Melbourne. Complete with house-made spritzes, cornhole, and picnic tables, you can almost taste Bondi Beach in every bite of avocado toast.
“Café culture in Melbourne is such an integral part of daily life,” explained Kate. “Your neighborhood cafe is more than a stop for coffee on your way to work; it’s an extension of your living room with good food, good coffee, and good mates.”
In a market saturated with instant lattes and heat lamp burgers, Kate is striving to create a home-grown experience with an atmosphere that transports guests to Melbourne’s Great Ocean Road in the summer.
“Our goal is to send guests on with full bellies and maybe a new friend or two,” Kate laughed.
To fulfill her goal, Kate collaborated with Tess Rafferty, an established chef from Melbourne, to help transform her classic collection of Aussie recipes into a menu of standouts that pay homage to her roots.
Taking center stage at Hearts is the carefully curated brunch menu. Crowd favorites such as the classic Eggs Benny and Aussie Sausage Roll have the neighborhood hooked. The best part is, you can add a poached egg to just about anything, which is the holy grail of a proper Melburnian brunch.
Working in tandem with the brunch bonanza is an extensive drink menu. Serving up Nashville favorite Stay Golden, Hearts has a noteworthy coffee program that guarantees a killer flat white. Hearts also sports a top-shelf cocktail program meticulously crafted by the minds behind Attaboy.
As it turns out, Kate’s twin brother Sam Ross is one of the founding creators of Attaboy, along with her other business partner Michael McIlroy. You can definitely say hospitality runs in the family.
“Sam and I are so like-minded, and we’ve all had the same vision and goals for Hearts from the beginning,” Kate said. “I really couldn’t imagine doing business with anyone else.”
The Ross twins have been training for their respective gigs for quite some time. Growing up in Melbourne, they helped out in Mom’s and sister’s cocktail bar on Brunswick Street in Melbourne, learning the ins and outs of owning a restaurant along the way.
Their time spent at the family bar was a defining time for both twins. After they graduated from high school, Sam moved to New York and began workshopping plans for a cocktail bar concept of his own.
After about 10 years of flirting with the city, Kate made the move to New York and dove head first into the hospitality scene. She worked for “all the right people” and racked up some firsthand experience opening restaurants and cafés across the city.
Since New York is filled to the brim with Australian-style restaurants, Kate knew she wanted to search elsewhere for the perfect home for her dream café.
Kate visited Music City for the first time when Attaboy opened its Nashville location. She fell in love with the city immediately. “I had never been to Nashville before, so I was amazed at what a cool town it was. Especially East Nashville,” Moss said. A New Yorker through and through, East Nashville lured Kate in with its familiar Brooklyn feel.
Fast forward and Hearts is readying for its spring 2020 grand opening. When COVID-19 restrictions were ordered, Ross and her crew had to make a difficult call: put off what they’d been tirelessly building and planning for more than a year, or attempt to open in a new and terrifying market.
“It was all so unknown, and there was no way around it,” Kate said. The biggest question was whether or not customers would trust a brand-new business with their tummies, and more importantly, their health. “All we could do was hope and trust that we’d prepared.”
On the weekend of Hearts’ grand opening, East Nashville exceeded all expectations and descended in droves.
“The turnout was so overwhelming and unexpected,” Kate said, “and it makes us even more excited for the future here.”