Sophie Moses at work with barista Mark and head chef Toby

Federation's cafe on the corner celebrates 15 years

Dinoo Kelleghan

Sophie Moses, owner of Federation’s “local”, toast, puts her money where her mouth is: “A lot of our menu is what I feel like eating, what I would like for breakfast or for lunch,” she says. She eats the same breakfast almost every day, Moroccan Breakfast on the toast menu: poached eggs, a pile of spinach, pita bread and hummus, all sprinkled with nutty dukkha — sometimes denying herself the crispy smashed garlic-coriander potatoes on the side.

Moses finds her customers from Federation and other offices nearby have similar habits. “They do like their routine. Like clockwork, people come in for their coffee, their favourite muffins.”

Toast, a valued tenant of Teachers Federation House, this year celebrates its 15th year with a café and catering business that serves 200-600 meals every day to customers ranging from Federation staff and Auditorium events to Mojo, Leo Burnett, Legal Aid, the Historic Houses Trust, Sass & Bide, the National Centre for Indigenous Excellence and government departments.

Moses has a simple maxim: as good as possible, as fast as possible.

“The quality of produce is important to me,” she says. “I want the food to be from fresh ingredients produced in a way that has the least possible impact on the environment. I like to use organic produce but I’m not a staunch organic person — I think also of ‘food miles’, the distance the food has to travel to the plate and the impact of that on the environment.”

The coffee is what pulls customers into cafes, and toast uses Toby’s organic coffee. “We like to keep it simple and serve it up as fast as we can,” Moses says.

Toast’s success lies in the team effort of waiters, chefs and barista. Moses works closely with head chef, Toby, on the food.

This part of Surry Hills was a dive when Moses set up toast 15 years ago. Where Teachers Health is now, there was a chicken-wire fence and a patch of rough ground frequented by some even rougher types. When Moses’s parents came to Sydney from her home town, Moree, they were appalled. “What are you doing?” they wailed. Where would the customers come from? Were any of them safe? They went for a walk around the bleak streets and Moses’s father spotted a large group of men in the distance. “Ah,” he said in relief, “you’ve got some customers there” — not realising they were a band of overnight residents from William Booth House.

Fifteen years on, Surry Hills is uber-cool, Toast is an established success and Moses has wound down her frenetic seven-day week to accommodate a little daughter in her life. “I make an effort to get my work-life balance in order,” she says. “I used to find working here quite difficult. Then I had a baby — that taught me what difficult is!”