the local, ballarat

The Local, Ballarat’s new locavore eatery

The Local, on Lydiard Street North, is one of a crop of new cafes in Ballarat that feature local produce front and centre.  I sat down with Tracey Simmonds, the cafe’s owner, to ask her what made her want to start a locally-oriented cafe, and what role she hopes it will play in the community.

“I lived at Linton,” she tells me. “I had a printing studio and I was hoping to start up a cafe.” But when her marriage ended in divorce, she was uprooted and moved suddenly to Ballarat. “I lost everything,” she says. “I thought, what do I do? Do I take a chance?”

In no time, she’d decided to start The Local.  She didn’t tell anyone, just surprised her friends by signing the lease and getting started.  The cafe is situated in an old grocery store near the corner of Seymour St, and it didn’t look very promising to start with. But over a few months, Tracey and her crew fitted it out to make a bright, friendly space – and built a loyal following on Instagram who were clamouring at the door as soon as the cafe opened.

the local, ballarat: the interior is bright and creative

The interior of The Local is bright and full of creative touches

Local producers, local flavours

Though she has no professional culinary training, Tracey comes from a family of cooks, and takes inspiration from professionals both famous (Maggie Beer, Stephanie Alexander, and Stefano di Pieri topped her list, along with the guys from paddock-to-plate restaurant Three Blue Ducks in NSW) and not so famous.  “Often it’s just the people in the back cooking in my favourite cafes.”  She mentions a lady she used to work with, named Jenny, or Jenno – “I learned my scone cooking from her!”

Her food is creative cafe fare with a local and seasonal twist, though Tracey mentions it’s been hard to keep up with the turning of the seasons since her work keeps her in the cafe.  “I don’t get to the markets as much as I used to,” she admits.  But she says that neighbours sometimes stop by with a bag of backyard produce, and mentions that if anyone brings her bunches of herbs from their garden she’ll happily trade them for a cup of coffee.

Much of the cafe’s veg comes from local farmers Spring Creek Organics, and Tracey reels off a list of other local suppliers: Inglenook Dairy and Simply Almond Milk (made by the folks behind Chat for Tea vegetarian restaurant), Grounded Pleasures hot chocolate, ham and sausages from Country Style Smallgoods, eggs from Ararat’s Green Eggs, preserves from The Preserver’s Pot at Smythesdale and Natasha Morgan at Spargo Creek, Dad’s Oats from the Pyrenees, and Hepburn Minerals Springs drinks were just some of the names.

Creative workshops, herb gardens, and other plans for the future

Tracey has big plans for The Local.  As well as two new staff coming onboard, a liquor license application, and plans for outdoor seating and a herb garden down the side laneway, she also hopes to start offering creative workshops and “meet the maker” events in the coming months.

The Local is participating in this year’s Winterlude pie competition (with a slow-cooked rabbit pie served with freekeh from Wit’s End Pulses in the Wimmera), and Tracey also wants to get involved in a homeless meals program and Beyond Blue’s Baking Our Blues Away.  “I’ve had depression and been completely down and out, but I’ve come out the other side,” she points out. “It’s a chance to say thank you.”

The community is responding well.  Every time I’ve been into the cafe it’s been hopping, and the vibe is fantastic. “The following and support has been great,” Tracey confirms. “It’s been a really big journey – I didn’t think I’d still be here.  So this is good. My dad would be so proud. I just keep pinching myself, and keep moving.”

the local cafe, ballarat - exterior with Tracey and her son sitting by the window

Tracey and her son outside the cafe.

All photos courtesy of Tracey Simmonds/The Local Cafe Ballarat.

Where to find The Local

The Local, Ballarat
303 Lydiard St North, Soldiers Hill VIC 3350

Instagram: @the_local_cafe_ballarat

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