Something old, something new

Denis the Menace just got a conscience – care of an up-cycled Melbourne café.

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Like your eggs with a side of saving the world? There’s a new café on the block that’s naughty by name but certainly not by nature. Melbourne’s Adam Wilkinson (of St Edmond’s café repute) has fashioned an entirely up-cycled, enviro-friendly eatery called Denis the Menace.

“I feel that one of the things that has become a hindrance in being sustainable or environmentally friendly is just awareness,” he tells us. “I want to show people that every little effort can make a difference. I feel some people have the mindset of ‘the problem is too big for my contribution to fix’, but I believe it’s about unity and education.”

We get amongst the Carlton Draught bottles-turned-water glasses and vintage ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ sugar bowls to find out how Adam pulled this rather big little guy together.

Why Denis the Menace?
The name Denis the Menace came from the combination of a character that is somewhat after my own heart, along with the intention to try and be more playful, relaxed [and] cheeky. Also, to contradict what seems to be the common pattern in today’s cafe culture of really serious, and a little bit heavy in a space. Because, let’s face it, it’s breakfast and it should be fun and enjoyable – casual.

Where did you find your building materials, furniture and general café fodder?
I used a terrific place called Hughes renovators paradise in Huntingdale and they salvage materials from houses being demolished. Here I found the slate I used to tile the bathrooms as well as some beautiful old tulip basins. I used Delta [Group] for all the internal hard-wood cladding – they are a recycled timber and building material salvage yard in port Melbourne. I also found some sole apple crates on Gumtree and I used 240 beer bottles and had them made into water glasses.

While collecting, how did you discriminate between trash and treasure?
I didn’t, I just purchased or picked up off the street what took my eye on that day.

How did you go about making your finds restaurant ready?
With great perseverance and hefty carpenter bills. I found what I liked, brought it back to site. I then delivered the good news to my builder that “I want that to go there!” Much to my builder’s disbelief, a bit of hard work and thinking outside the square meant we were able to achieve the desired outcome. Preparing all the slate was the hardest to watch, the poor carpenter didn’t have much skin left on his fingertips. It was a huge job.

What kinds of things can be upcycled that might not be immediately obvious?
Fruit boxes into furniture, hard wood planks into timber batons for fencing, beer bottles for water glasses [and] jeans into sun blinds.

The most unusual find you’ve upcycled?
My old Tonka Trucks that are now home to little herb gardens.

How long did it take you to put Denis together, and what was the most challenging part of the process?
It took six months to build and 12 months to plan. It was particularly hard getting certain timbers to be used in a practical sense. For example getting some red pieces of an iron bark to join perfectly to make the beautiful communal table I have. All along minimising wastage, I was very lucky to have traders that shared my vision so we were able to make the seemingly impossible, possible and also beautiful.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from this upcycled venture?
That there is an amazing community of like-minded people that will help you no end.


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