Cafe surcharges are usually reserved for Sundays and public holidays, but new vegan-friendly venue Handsome Her is adding an optional 18 per cent charge for male customers.
“We just thought it would be quite bold and unapologetic, and really bring attention to not only the women’s charities that we’re trying to raise money for, but to the whole disparity in wages between men and women,” says co-owner Alex O’Brien.
- 206 Sydney Road, Brunswick
She says people don’t realise that only unaccompanied men are asked if they want to pay the 18 per cent premium, which only gets charged if they agree. “At the end of the day, we tally it up and put that money to the side,” she says.
If men come along with women, there’s no extra charge, Alex says, and if people are getting takeaway coffees in the morning, they won’t be asked to pay the surcharge either.
The 12-year hospitality veteran had been brewing the idea of a community-focussed cafe for years before taking on the three-month development of the former Bar Estrella site on Sydney Road in Brunswick. She says the fundraising initiative is an important part of the cafe’s business model, and a great way to give back.
“I looked around the cafe the other day, and it was full of women with their daughters, and great men as well, and I thought “This is perfect. This is what we’re trying to do,” she says.
Despite an initiative that aims to raise money for women’s organisations and get people talking about Australia’s gender pay gap, the Handsome Her Facebook page has been bombarded with negative comments from men’s rights activists since it opened this past Thursday.
Alex says there are more than 4000 followers on Facebook showing their support online and turning up at the cafe, so the backlash doesn’t faze her.
“I’ve been working in feminist spaces for so long, and been dealing with men’s rights activists for so long, so it kind of just washes off me like water off a duck’s back,” Alex says.
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Despite the recent media attention, Alex says all she really wants now is for the controversy to blow over so she can focus on her new business and make a difference to the local community.
As for food, the cafe serves up vegetarian and vegan treats. Alex says the plan is to make a lot of their own food, but for the moment they are also supplied by local businesses such Compassionate Kitchen and Gluten Freegan, and source their almond milk from Almond Milk Co., which is made fresh in Melbourne.
Coffee-wise, the honey-washed Brazilian single origin by Fazenda Alta Vista is roasted by Alex and her partner Belle at Bureaux Collective in Cremorne.
“We really wanted to have women at the top of our coffee operations, so we were trying to find female roasters. We couldn’t find any, so we thought we’d do it ourselves,” she says.
As for the surcharge for men, at this stage it will run for one week per month. “It’s a bit of trial and error at this stage – we’re seeing what the response is in the first week. I’ll then sit down with my staff and see where we go from here.”