the definition of hard work.

This story is part 1 of 2 regarding of the most generous, supportive people I have ever met.

Tony and Sandy.

A mid 30’s couple who own a very busy and popular cafe in Brunswick, Green Refectory.

This cafe, which is located within the now hip Brunswick, Melbourne, is an institute. People travel from all over to experience not only the food, but also the cakes and other pastries (but more on that later).

It’s also important to note that Brunswick hasn’t always been hip….Back when Sandy started the cafe, there was literally nothing else around and the suburb was a wasteland.

But she saw the diamond in the rough and as you will discover in this story, worked unbelievably hard to transform her little space in the world, into something desired by many.

So how did I end up finding this place?

How did I end up going from barely knowing it existed to a dedicated ‘Raving Fan’?

Despite living and working in the area since 2009, I really hadn’t heard much. But what I had heard somewhere was that it was a place for hippies and Brunswick alternatives to go to…(back when I was a judgmental person). How wrong that was. I had no idea of the amazing food, service and culture within those walls.

I started going to ‘The Green’, which is what us regs call it, after my friend, Erros, told me about a cafe that his client Tony’s wife (Sandy) ran. He said it was called the Green Refectory and is just up the corner from where we were working at the time.

So we went to check it out later that week. From the moment I walked in, I loved the homely feel. Literally it is an old home downstairs with a few different rooms, and outdoor area and a kitchen..So funky.


We were served by a chilled laid back guy, Ari, who Erros knew from schooling days, and who I would also get to know well over the coming 12 months. Erros told me about this amazing open burger he had ordered. So we ordered that but mentioned to Ari that we didn’t want bread…would that be ok? “Hell Yeah” he said. We also didn’t want cheese..”No Problem”. He assured us anything was possible…

With so many cafes shying away from customisations and menu altering alternatives, The Green moves in the opposite direction. They understand that at the core, their existence depends on the happiness and satisfaction of the customer. This stems from Sandy’s ‘on the floor’ leadership style which will come into the story a little later.

I also noticed when ordering, an amazing fridge full of cake….like literally Mars Bar Cheesecake, Tim-Tam Cheesecake, Paleo Cake, Vanilla Slice, and at least 12 other types.
I asked Ari what the go was with the cakes, were they ordered in? (I hate mass produced cake..) He mentioned the boss makes them fresh in the kitchen. I thought WOW…that’s a lot of cake. To which he responded that yes Sandy gets up super early to prepare them.

Being an early riser myself, I am always interested in what ‘super early’ is and I think there is a mutual respect between those of us who get up early and complete work before the sun is up. None the less, in this case ‘Super Early’ was in fact VERY early (3:30am-4am) 7 days a week. I was impressed.

I passed on the cake this time, but being a sweet tooth I was definitely going to need to come back another day.


So that’s exactly what I did.
I came back again, and again…
and again.

Between August 2014 and December 2015 I was there at least six days a week, mostly seven….plus that usually meant twice a day. Coffee in the morning, followed by lunch/another coffee and/or cake in the arvo.

Sometimes this would range from 7am in the morning, to 6pm at night…it all depended on my schedule, but I was fairly consistent.

But why did I keep coming back? Not only were we offered free barista made coffee at my work place, but I also walked past three cafes + an entire shopping centre filled with food and drink venues just to get my morning coffee?
(Which by the way is a long black, so it wasn’t that I was attached to the way a barista made the coffee!)

I boil it all down to a ten letter word. It was the ‘experience’.

It was always consistent. Nice staff, great food, plenty of seating and a laid back chilled vibe.

They didn’t look down at me if I brought my laptop or a book and stayed for 2 hours (in fact, they actually encouraged me to bring them and were always intrigued with what new book I would bring in).

One thing I did notice while going there was there was always one lady carrying cakes, bringing out new pastries, and also carrying dishes back to the kitchen.
She looked busy and had a lot on her mind….but I could tell she was very well respected by the staff.

Me being me, I started to get to know the staff and also started to say hello to this woman as well. Turns out, it was Sandy, the owner.


I thought….wow, she owns one of the busiest cafes in Brunswick, and instead of sitting back and hiring managers, shift supervisors etc, she is on the ground, helping run things, making sure at the ground level everything was running smoothly. Great leadership.

Over the next 6 months we would start chatting every now and then. I really respect any busy person who takes the time to sit down and chat with people. It showed she genuinely wanted to speak with me and whoever I was with.

I asked her about her working hours where she mentioned most days would start at 3:30am and generally go through to 7 or 8pm…..and has been this way for 11 years…7 days a week!

My favourite thing though, is she is extremely humble about it.  She doesn’t brag or big note it.  You do not see social media posts from her with “The Grind” or any bullshit like that.  Just quietly goes about her business with one goal in mind…a happy customer.

But this was literally just the beginning. I would have no idea what was going to transpire over the next 12 or so months and how much of an impact both Sandy and Tony would have on myself. (You’ll hear about Tony in part 2).

At the time, I was going through a particularly busy and confusing time. I was attempting to start a couple of businesses on the side, in addition to having a full time job with its own stresses, and also a busy life outside of both of those things.

The Green was my escape. A time where I could go and be alone. No-one would bother me. The perfect sanctuary.

Given I was there so much, I got to know the staff extremely well.

An incredible bunch of people each with their own unique stories.

  • Paris is a champion Basketball player and always interested in what I read or my gym workouts
  • Alex plays in a local band, who also travels the nation
  • Phil is one of the funniest people you will meet with his quirky jokes and unique service style,
  • Josh is one of the best looking men you will meet (I personally prefer women, but if I were to turn for anyone it would be Josh haha..not only is he a qualified engineer, he is also a lifeguard)
  • Ari is so chilled and just makes you want to be around him, plus he is into movie production which is really interesting to hear about
  • Annie is always smiling and friendly
  • and then you have the rest of the staff who are all unique and make the experience amazing.

Most of them having been there for 5, 6 or 8 years…they just don’t want to leave!

On top of this, you have Sandy.  She is the perfect compliment to all of the above.  Sometimes we would just exchange a quick nod and smile, other times we would have a nice chat. In either situation it’s the smallest interactions that can make the biggest difference.

Sandy is one of the nicest people I know and I have a lot of respect for her. So thank-you Sandy for creating such a unique culture and experience for your customers. We all love the work you do and it’s extremely appreciated.

So this is a note for you, the reader….next time you’re in the Brunswick area (or even if you’re not….travel there), you need to check out the Green Refectory, 115 Sydney Road, Brunswick for some food and a coffee.


Oh and definitely try their cakes! You will not be disappointed.



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  1. Jim Dolan
    January 30, 2016

    My Niece runs and ones this, the best food in Melbourne. The muffins are awesome.

    • Hayden Wilson
      January 30, 2016

      Hi Jim. I funnily enough have never had a muffin, so I can only speak for the cakes…! haha

  2. Carol Thornycroft
    January 30, 2016

    Sandy is my niece and the best girl in the world along with her 2 sisters.If I lived in Melbourne I wouldn’t bother cooking I would just eat there, as well as the food being so nice and healthy it is also very cheep. I wish I lived closer so I could help her out and see more of her wonderful children. I am so proud of her and so is the rest of her family, she always makes time for her family and their friends. .

    • Hayden Wilson
      January 30, 2016

      Thanks for your comment, Carol.
      It is all of those things! And housed within an amazing environment.

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