As the co-owner of one of Melbournes “most Instagrammable” cafes, Long Story Short’s Ly Nguyen is no stranger to off-the-wall and crazy-looking dishes, and the comments that come from punters when the business shares these on social media.
However, the Port Melbourne business owner says she was still initially taken aback by the “hurtful” comments left after the business posted one of its most out-there constructions yet: Charcoal activated fish and chips.
That said, for Nguyen and her team, the feeling didn’t last long.
“At first we were taken aback, but it was getting people through the door because they were so fascinated and intrigued. We’ve even kept it as a permanent addition to the menu,” she tells SmartCompany.
This is despite comment writers on the cafe’s Instagram and other pages really not holding back, with many comparisons drawn to another round, dark-coloured object.
“I’m sure it tastes great but looks very unappealing to eat, I wouldn’t eat it based on that it looks like a burnt [poo emoji] on a plate.” said one comment writer.
“It looks like a Labrador did a shit on a plate,” chimed in another.
The cafe has been “out of control in a good way” since the dish picked up steam on social media, says Nguyen, who came up with the idea with her partner while trying to work out how to make fish and chips interesting.
“We’re in Port Melbourne, so we’re close to the beach, and we were looking to extend our lunch menu. We wanted to do fish and chips, but we knew we couldn’t make them boring,” she says.
“All of our dishes have some sort of twist to it, so we incorporated activated charcoal.”
The business has a strong following on social media, with over 30,000 followers on its Instagram page. This following was essential for the launch of the dish, with Nguyen saying she would never have done it without it.
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“On social media, people love to hate, and there are so many trolls out there. People love to attack businesses online, so we would have never done this without a strong social following,” she says.
Looking at the continuing growth of the “crazy” Melbourne food scene, which has seen inclusions such as the avolatte and the $5 Nutella on a spoon in recent times, Nguyen believes it has no indication of slowing but hopes consumers perception begins to shift.
“People think it’s this Melbourne-hipster-wanker thing, but it helps a lot of businesses if they’re constantly innovating. It’s about trying new ideas and not doing something basic because new ideas get people talking,” she says.
“Not all businesses are the same, and a lot of our competitors have simpler menus and there’s a market for that too. I appreciate that, but I still love to hear when customers have travelled two hours to try our dishes.”
With the accolade of being one of the “most Instagrammable” cafes in the city, Nguyen says it does hang over the cafe’s head, and the chefs often feel pressure to innovate and work hard. But the business accepts it has to keep up, and Nguyen notes it’s not just crazy dishes the cafe excels in.
“The trend toward social will shift, just because everything like that does, so we have to back it up with strong customer service and tick all the other boxes,” she says.
“You can’t just rely on gimmicks.”