Acclaimed chef David Kapay will head up Wodonga's first social enterprise cafe run by Junction Support Services.
On Friday, February 2, not-for-profit Junction Support Services announced it would open Close Collective Cafe at the iconic art deco building fronting Woodland Grove in Wodonga CBD during March.
Junction Support Services chief executive Megan Hanley said the project, which was in the pipeline since 2020, combined high-quality cafe fare and the chance for patrons to give back to their community.
She said all cafe profits would be reinvested in local youth and community support programs through Junction Support Services.
"As a community service organisation, we are committed to innovation, and we believe that embracing innovative approaches can enhance the impact and sustainability of programs, ultimately leading to improved outcomes for the communities we work alongside," she said.
"David is also passionate about building strong, thriving communities by investing in and empowering young people, so naturally we are thrilled to have him on board."
With the former operator of Wodonga restaurant Miss Amelie, Kapay, at the helm, Close Collective Cafe will employ a core staff of eight and roll out training programs for youth within six months.
Having started at Cafe Grove on the same site 25 years ago straight out of high school, Kapay himself had come full circle back to the heart of Wodonga.
"I started my apprenticeship in this kitchen back in 1999," he said.
"Since those Grove days over 20 years ago, I've worked my way to the top, so returning to where it all started and giving back is very important. It completes the full circle.
"I'm excited to sink my teeth into this new chapter and re-activate this Wodonga landmark."
Having worked alongside celebrity English chef Jamie Oliver at Fifteen London, a non-profit restaurant that trained people from disadvantaged backgrounds, over four years from 2005, Kapay said he had gained invaluable insights early in his career.
While finding his own feet overseas in his early 20s, he had soaked up a wealth of knowledge in the Oliver franchise.
"It's all about patience, communication and connections with individuals and working out their passions and what interests them," Kapay said.
"It's sharing a feeling of empowerment they may not have experienced before."
Kapay said the chance to give back to the community while sharing his passion for fresh, local produce was compelling.
"Close Collective Cafe is about the bigger picture; the core values of the cafe and Junction really inspired my return to the kitchen," he said.
Ms Hanley said Close Collective acknowledged the work of Junction Support Services staff member Kate Close, who died in 2022 from cancer.
"Kate was a strong advocate for young people and her passion is reflected in this new enterprise," Ms Hanley said.
"Junction works day-to-day with youth who may find it challenging to gain work experience.
"Close Collective Cafe will become a platform for empowering and uplifting local youth by providing them with meaningful employment and skills development opportunities.
"The future vision is that the cafe will operate as a training ground for young people, offering them valuable experience in hospitality and business management."
Junction Support Services cafe project lead Colleen Tait said the venture was a labour of love that would invest in future generations.
Trainees will develop skills such as baristas, front of house or back of house.
"It's about them learning transferable skills," Ms Tait said.
Situated at 198a High Street, Close Collective Cafe will offer weekday breakfast and lunch service between 7am and 3pm.