"I studied sports science after high school and two years into the degree realised that I didn’t like it. Cooking had always been a passion of mine. I was adopted from Thailand and my parents wanted to keep my heritage so we ate multicultural food. We were never a meat and three veg family and we weren’t encouraged to order from the kids' menu.

I grew up watching my mum, dad and grandma cook. I always liked baking our family birthday cakes, and it was my mum who pushed me to do a Certificate 4 in patisserie at TAFE. I loved TAFE so much more than uni - it was very hands on and the teachers were great.

I graduated in 2015 and got a job at Pana Chocolate (now Pana Organic) in Richmond as a production assistant then team leader. In 2020 I began working as production manager at Chocablock Chocolates in Moorabbin, making personalised confectionary. I loved the job but didn’t love the location as my commute was up to two hours each way. I thought, I could be doing so much more with my time."

Panee inside the beautiful surrounds of KereKere cafe.

Panee inside the beautiful surrounds of KereKere cafe.

"I saw an ad for a café manager in East Melbourne and applied. When I had my interview, the first thing that struck me was the beautiful location. At the time I didn’t know anything about the meaning of the name but I soon learnt that Kere Kere is a Fijian word meaning to give without expectation. The café’s owner, James grew up in Fiji and now lives in Perth.

James is great - he trusts my judgment and leaves most decisions to me. Pretty quickly I began meeting the regular people who come into the café and learning their names, and the dog they own. It was a side of hospitality I had never known as I’d always been behind the scenes but it’s the part I now love most. Everyone who comes to the café has such different stories, from locals to tourists, and I always ask why they’re in Melbourne. It’s not just one demographic, we get everyone.

Our cakes and slices are very popular. It’s not unusual for me to bake 200 slices of cake in a day. Last week I baked 240 brownies for Brownie Tuesdays.

I’ve got lots of plans for the café. We are working Fitzroy Gardens Visitor Centre to start hosting kids’ teddy bears picnics on the first Saturday of each month. I’d like to host Thai cooking classes, and teach people how to cook nutritional food on a budget, too. I am in the process of applying for a City of Melbourne Connected Neighbourhoods Small Grant to support me to do this.

We also grow fruit and veggies in planters outside the cafe and bag up the produce for customers to take home with them free-of-charge. The planters were another Council initiative.

Really, what we aim to do at the café is connect our community together. To promote this, we offer people up to $250 each month to host community events at KereKere. We’ve had people host language classes, book clubs and other social meet ups in the café, and use the money towards coffee and cake.

One of the parts I’ve loved about this job is getting to know the people who utilise the park and café and not just seeing it as thing but how it has become a personal space to people. For some of our regulars, this café is a big part of their daily social interaction. We are an integral part to their outing of the day."

Get involved

Head to KereKere café for a selection of sweet treats and beverages. To find out about special events, visit the website. If you have an idea to enhance the local community, promote arts, culture, learning or wellbeing activities, email info@kerekere.org

CoM grants

City of Melbourne offers several different type of grants to support community initiatives around Melbourne. Find out more.

The planter boxes at KereKere were provided by CoM as part of our community garden policy. Community gardens are a unique type of public open space that contribute to food production, improve local food security and enhance public health and wellbeing.

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