In my travels through the global craft beer world, I’ve come across many a brewery launched by people from the world of IT. It’s actually quite uncanny just how many have made the switch, yet it’s not a path many have taken when it comes to hospitality.
On the evidence of To All My Friends, the craft beer and pizza joint in the Canberra suburb of Cook, maybe it should happen more often.
In simple terms, the small venue created by IT folks Shayne Taylor and Natalie Legg punches well above its weight.
Eight taps rotate through beers from independent Aussie brewers across the country (and very occasionally abroad) and ensure guests can pick from a wide range of styles; when we called in, they covered farmhouse to IPA, hazy to fruit sour, pale and pilsner – a mix of core range and limited releases. Augmenting that is a diverse and well-curated packaged list found on a wall alongside the taps.
And then there’s the food, with a menu dedicated in the main to pizza, but also offering up an array of options suited for sharing and designed with beer in mind: charcuterie platters, wings with a selection of hearty sauces, ribs, vego options, salads if you feel like something healthier.
As for the venue itself, it’s a reasonably cosy spot, with a mix of table and (comfy leather) bar seating inside, a few spots out front and a bright and breezy beer garden at the rear that makes the best of the space available. All well and good, but why the comment that “maybe it should happen more often”?
If you were to drill the answer down to one thing, attention to detail would be my suggestion – the sort of attention to detail that’s part and parcel of a successful career in IT.
The first clues are there as you approach, namely the ornate gilt lettering on the front windows spelling out not just the venue’s name – taken from a toast by Mickey Rourke’s character in the 1987 film Barfly – but what lies in wait inside.
Then there’s the beers on offer. The tap list isn’t just balanced, but you can tell the people responsible for compiling it know their stuff, and not just the owners but also the experienced, knowledgable staff that includes qualified Cicerones and brewers among its number. There will always be beers you recognise, but they don’t just stick to the obvious beers from breweries, things evolve seasonally, and you’ll spot smaller interstate brands in the mix too.
However, it’s arguably with the pizzas that attention to detail is the greatest. Once Shayne and Natalie had agreed to take the lease on the spot adjacent to the neighbourhood café Little Oink they’d been running for years beforehand, he set off on a mission to create the perfect pizza dough. It was a mission that would see him experimenting until one or two in the morning, tweaking his recipe until he was happy.
The late nights paid off, however. Not only did the bar quickly gain a reputation far outside Cook for the quality of the pizzas, but it became a firm favourite with locals delighted such a place had sprung up in the neighbourhood shopping centre. For proof of just how To All My Friends had been embraced, look no further than the first evening they opened to offer takeaway pizzas during 2020’s COVID lockdown…
“We go so many orders we had a two-and-a-half hour wait for pizza,” Natalie recalls. “We were so grateful for the support, but it was fucking hectic!”
Not that there wasn’t the odd bump in the road getting to that point. We won’t go into full details here as it’s much better hearing it from the owners’ mouths with beer in hand, but they had an interesting time with chefs early on, to the point Shayne and their local barber did a shift in the kitchen on the opening night after one got arrested, while another got their car bogged at the side of a road before walking out mid-shift the following week.
Thankfully, such challenges are now confined to history, instead providing material for cheerily delivered anecdotes, with such cheer the other element – along with a fine selection of wines and spirits, of course – that makes the bar what it is. Shayne and Natalie might not work at To All My Friends, but their warm, infectious nature infuses the venue and its staff, and in turn the local community.
The only risk now, perhaps, would be for Shayne to take up the cry from Barfly and shout a round for all their friends as, since opening back in 2018, they appear to have made rather a lot.