“We thought we didn’t know what people want, but we realized we do know what people want because we know what WE want. People love the food at our house, so why not just put our food on our menu? There was a huge influx of outside ideas early on, but we finally decided to follow our guts.”
- Karla Keatinge, St Balmain
It’s almost impossible to not try a new cafe every morning in New York. There’s a constant revolving door of piping hot new coffeehouses specializing in unique roasts from around the globe. Tucked away on the corner of North 8th and Bedford is the homey, family run, St. Balmain where we’ve found ourselves returning daily (and sometimes, multiple times in one day). There’s something special about finding that place in your neighborhood, where you feel like you can return for every meal of the day, in every mood, and where you feel at home. St Balmain is that place - our second home and a calm respite in a busy city.
That’s exactly what husband and wife duo Kane and Karla set out to do when opening St. Balmain. The two grew up in Australia, and moved to New York City originally to work for a non profit. The pair lived all over - Alphabet City, West Village, Chelsea, the Upper West Side, before settling in Williamsburg where they felt the similarities with their old stomping grounds just outside of Sydney, a neighborhood called St. Balmain. When they got to New York though, it wasn’t easy. They moved from Australia to New York in the heart of winter, and forced themselves to go out nightly to escape their small apartment and try make themselves fall in love with their adopted new city by eating and drinking their way through the boroughs. On one of those nights, they were walking home when they saw that the restaurant space currently housing St. Balmain was up for grabs, and three days later, the duo and their business partners had the keys.
The business is built on a bond between family and old friends, which according to Kane can be difficult at times but he “wouldn’t want to have those [tough] conversations with anyone else." One of those tough conversations? The colleagues arguing over the apple tree in the backyard. Some of them have been worried about the potential hazards of apples clocking patrons on the head, however Kane has stood his ground, thinking they could be the only restaurant in New York cooking with apples from their own tree, but mostly “without the tree, it’s just a deck!”.
They’ve had success by simply following their guts, and always putting simple dishes on the menu that they themselves love. “People love my food at my house, so why not put it on my menu?” Karla told us over coffee on a gloomy Tuesday morning. And she’s right - from their Avocado Toast to Brooke’s Breakfast Bowl w/ quinoa, kale, egg, and haloumi - everything on the menu has a certain restrained, comforting simplicity to it that keeps us coming back for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and now the occasional drink in their tucked away, semi-hidden bar in the back (that seems to be open at random hours, whenever they feel like it). And on top of the wonderfully fresh food and drinks, their staff - from Daniel, the barista by-day and folk band frontman by night, to Denver, the always smiling, recent New York transplant - couldn’t be more pleasant and genuine.
In a city where space is limited and it’s harder and harder for people to host friends and family at their homes, its cafes like St Balmain where they welcome you and turn their tables into our front rooms.
- words by Seth Kallen