Next time you’re in Adelaide’s East End, take a turn onto Union Street and pop into Penny University. This cozy and inviting café will not disappoint with delicious coffee, breakfast and lunch on offer. Owner Foti Likouras has a long history in the hospitality industry working at his father’s café, Big Table in Adelaide’s Central Market, from a young age. It is in part this experience, and Foti’s infectious positive attitude, which has lead to the success of Penny University,
Opening up the doors of Penny University especially for The Adelaide Set, we sat down to chat with Foti himself.
What inspired you to open Penny University?
It was blue skies and sunny days. I was doing project management, construction management and economics at Uni SA. As I was studying I was doing part time work at my dads café, Big Table. Interacting with people all day and then going into an office, where I was doing paper work and staring at a screen, just wasn’t for me. I was looking out my window and saw a blue sky, and thought ‘I want to be enjoying that.’ I thought, ‘you know what? I’ll take a chance.’
What complications did you run into during the start up process?
Finding a location. And once finding this place – 1/7 Union Street, it was having enough area for seats; to cook and prep food and make coffee. It used to be a phone accessory shop. It was all bare. The flow and the layout was the hardest point of designing the place.
Where did the name of your café come from?
I can’t take claim for the name! I was subscribed to bean scene magazine, and my mum was flicking through one of the articles and found ‘Penny University.’ The full description is on our business card:
The term Penny University originates from 18th century coffee houses in London. People were charged a penny to entre. Once inside, the patron had access to coffee, company and the latest news and gossip. This environment attracted an eclectic group of people, in a society that placed high importance on class and economic status. The coffeehouse was a unique melting pot of people, all sharing a common experience. The idea that one could acquire an education for a Penny took hold of the poetic imagination!
Who do you see as your target customer?
Anyone and everyone; whoever is comfortable in sitting next to a stranger as the café is an intimate space. People do climb over the top of you! I have a lot of customers that have made both business and social connections at the café because of the close seating. The majority of customers are business people, university students and people from the Royal Adelaide Hospital. Then you have your frantic shoppers that are running through. And surprisingly a lot of tourists come through here, because Rundle Street is an icon of Adelaide. The more the merrier!
What should people order at Penny University?
For breakfast there is the shakshuka baked eggs, which is a Middle Eastern inspired dish. The eggs are baked in a tomato sauce with a slight chili hit, pork sausage and some nice crusty Turkish bread. There is also the tower of corn fritters, with crispy bacon, avocado and dill mayo. And if you’re feeling cheeky, a French toast with maple syrup, rhubarb, and fresh strawberries dusted with icing sugar. If you want to impress someone you bring them here for that.
For lunch I would grab the roast chicken. It’s a piece of roast chicken that has been in the oven for a couple of hours. My brother, the chef, marinades it, and each day it is different. And which your choice of our ten salads you cant go wrong.
There are a huge amount of cafes popping up in the east end of the city. How do you set yourself apart from other cafes?
What we pride ourselves on is customer service. And having convenience, because lets face it, everyone in this day and age is working a little bit harder and their breaks for lunch are getting shorter. We provide that healthy, quick alternative. Also, everything is made fresh each day. That’s what really has given us that loyal customer service. People come in here for breakfast or their morning coffee, and they see the salads being made directly behind me. A couple of hours later its ready in the cabinet and by one o’clock it’s usually gone.
What advice do you have for people who want to start their own hospitality business?
To give advice, I am still learning. But I can give you what I’ve learnt, which is to roll with the punches because each day presents a new challenge. You’ve got to have a smile on your face because we’re here to make peoples’ day. Make sure you’re patient, you can’t get frustrated, it is what it is, everything can be fixed. It’s not the end of the world. You’ve got to be hospitable. If you’re not providing that, you’re in the wrong business.
What do you see in the future for the Penny University?
We want to introduce outdoor seating. Once people find out there is more seating available they will be more inclined to come instead of going somewhere else because they cant get a seat. If we could get the council and community support for outdoor seats it would be great! And perhaps another penny university in a different location.
Penny University is open Monday to Friday 7am-3pm.
For more information, check out Penny University under the café set.