‘She’s grown up’: Shannon Martinez on the new Collingwood incarnation of Smith & Daughters and Smith & Deli
Melbourne’s Smith & Daughters has gained worldwide recognition for its trailblazing approach to vegan cuisine. Now it’s moved to a new location with an enhanced new vision which – after much anticipation – has just opened for business. We spoke to founder and creative culinary force Shannon Martinez about the concept, the space, and her own evolving philosophy on food and living.
Two venues, one roof: the move to Collingwood
Smith & Daughters and Smith & Deli have become icons of the Melbourne culinary scene, arguably redefining the entire concept of vegan food. Their innovative plant-based creations have rightly earned international acclaim – not to mention landing a winner’s award and two finals places between them across both years of the Nourish Vegan Awards so far.
Previously based in Melbourne’s Fitzroy, the two venues have now reopened under one roof in the neighbouring suburb of Collingwood. Why this move? “We had reached the limit of what we could achieve in the old spaces,” says founding chef Shannon Martinez. “There was nowhere to move from there, and there was so much more we wanted to do.”
When the new location became available, the vision quickly took shape. The two venues remain distinct but are now physically adjacent, with a shared kitchen between them. It’s given them scope for the growth they’d been unable to accommodate in the previous Fitzroy sites. With the deli now twice its former size and outdoor seating to boot, the result is impressive. “I’m pretty sure this is one of the biggest vegan food hubs in the world,” Shannon says.
Counter culture: Smith & Deli’s evolution to a dine-in venue
The deli was the first to get up and running in the new location, just before Christmas. The previous spot was famous for its queues out the door; now there’s space for dine-in and it’s offering breakfast, lunch and dinner service. “People were always asking if we could have dine-in at the deli, but it was just physically impossible. You could barely stand in there let alone sit,” Shannon says. “With the new venue, we’ve got enough seating for close to 50 people.”
As for what’s on offer, the deli has everything it did before, and a whole lot more. There’s still the deli cabinet packed with their signature housemade vegan charcuterie, sandwiches, coffees and pastries but, with the new space and layout options, Shannon’s been able to realise her vision of a full European-style grocery store and deli fused with a cafeteria-style dining experience. “It’s a cafeteria, so you grab a tray,” she explains. “If you order a deli plate, you get a choice of a main and sides from heated and chilled selections, then there’s a dessert section, plus we also have wine, beer, and cider on tap. Then you take your tray and eat!”
It’s the vision Shannon always had, and now there’s space to do it. “I wanted to give people the ease of fast food but really good quality, made by the chefs of Smith & Daughters. So, our standard of food, but fast and easy where you could even go on the way back from the gym.”
Like everything we’ve come to expect from this powerhouse of plant-based innovation, it’s original, rule-bending, and inspired. The combo of floor-to-ceiling glass, polished concrete floors, wall art, and generous wooden tables, along with the superb and constantly updating menu brings an elevated air to this quick service experience – as does the artfully curated grocery range. You can pick up fresh, dried or chilled items including prepared deli foods, cut flowers, or choose something from their homewares range, such as their stainless-steel measuring cup sets, made in collaboration with cult Collingwood jewellery atelier, Heart Of Bone.
Smith + Bone measuring cup set.
Live outside Melbourne? You can shop the full range of homewares, reuseables, books, clothing, accessories and jewellery via the online store, shipping Australia-wide and overseas.
All grown up: Smith & Daughters’ glam new vibe
In contrast to the deli’s cafeteria vibes, Shannon describes Smith & Daughters as “the place to go if you want to get a bit more zhuzhed up, go out, and have a proper dining experience.” This was of course always the case, but with the relaunch at the new venue, Shannon’s brought in a suite of exciting innovations.
Open for dinner service Tuesday to Sunday, the venue now boasts a custom-made fire pit created by the Brick Chef. This stroke of genius is an example of Shannon’s unique take on vegan food, from her lens as a classically trained chef who to this day remains an omnivore (although more on this later).
“We always want to do things different to most vegan restaurants, to change the way people look at vegan food or what they expect from vegan food.” she says. “When you think about cooking over fire, it’s pretty connected to meat cooking, so we’ve decided to get one of those and start doing vegan food over open fire – cos I think that’s pretty fucking cool!”
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The restaurant still features plenty of Shannon’s signature black aesthetic, but it’s glam instead of grungy. “It’s a boujier version of what we had before. It’s like what she used to be but grown up a little bit. Like she finally got a job and can afford the good shit!” There’s plush seating, floral tartan carpet, a brass chain link curtain, and now an open kitchen with ‘chef’s table’ seating. “It’s my version of glammed up – very dark, very sexy, very moody but a bit more glam. If I could style my own house, it would look like the restaurant.”
True to her Spanish roots, the menu remains Mediterranean-focused, venturing further across the region to explore more from Turkish and Greek cuisine, which Shannon notes are ideally suited to cooking over fire. The wine list echoes this Mediterranean slant, and establishes another point of difference. “It’s an exciting wine list”, she says; “more traditional, more European.”
Rebel without a pause: Shannon’s personal and food philosophy
Since COVID struck, Shannon’s had a personal battle with breast cancer on top of the challenges wrought by the pandemic. Thankfully, she’s out the other side, but it’s taken its toll. “It’s still pretty full on with how my body is; I’m not what I used to be,” she says, but is quick to add that she’s feeling a million times better than a year ago when she was still in the midst of the treatment.
We wonder how she has coped, and that characteristic Shannon attitude shines through in her answer: “I’m always just taking it as it comes, and just get on with stuff. That’s how I’ve always lived my life – same with cancer, same with COVID. You can’t do anything about it, so you may as well just push on.”
As for veganism, Shannon remains one of the most passionate – and probably the most impactful – vegan advocates around, despite still calling herself an omnivore. Playing a part in opening people’s minds and palates to what’s possible with vegan food really seems to be what drives her. “Watching the amount of people come in here that I know have probably never walked into a vegan venue in their life is pretty awesome, and we’re getting less and less people walking away when they ask for a coffee and they find out we don’t have dairy milk. People are much more open to it; it’s much more common, which is really exciting.”
Australia’s most famous nonvegan vegan chef is still not vegan herself, but in her words “getting closer to it”. “I reckon I eat probably 90% vegan now,” she says, which is an increase on the last time we caught up with her. “Probably even more at the moment as I haven’t been out to restaurants in two years,” she muses. “I don’t really eat much meat at all anymore; I can’t even remember the last time I did.”
On ever opening a nonvegan restaurant: “Nah,” she says. “I don’t ever want a business that causes that much damage to the planet.”
Smith & Daughters and Smith & Deli are both open for business at 107 Cambridge St, Collingwood. Find them online at smithanddaughters.com.