Meet Mary Eats Cake, the French inspired high tea experience in Melbourne. The brainchild of Jess Hilbrick, a trained pastry chef and Sarah de Witt, a tea sommelier, Mary Eats Cake is a modern twist on a favoured tradition. We speak to them about the business’ beginnings, the secret to the perfect tea, and who they’d most like to share a high tea with.
Congratulations on the success you’ve had with Mary Eats Cake! How did yourself and Sarah meet and how did the concept come about?
Jess: I first met Sarah whilst I was in the grips of building a small High Tea business. Eager to improve my service, I was looking to source some unique Melbourne made tea blends for my High Tea offering. Upon meeting Sarah, it became apparent that there was an instant spark between us and in that first initial meeting we covered off on learning about tea blends, which quickly escalated to sharing our visions, hopes and dreams for our small businesses in the future. It was very obvious that we shared a unique bond and were aligned in our thinking – there was an opportunity here too good to miss and that together we could create something beyond what we could do apart. Not long after this time “Mary Eats Cake” was born, the brand being a sweet fusion of our most loved creations of High Tea savoury and sweet treats and artisan tea blends.
What’s each of your roles in the business and why do you think your partnership works?
Sarah: We each bring unique and complementary skills to Mary’s table. Jess has a background in accounting and a Patisserie Degree. One of her major roles in the business is designing the High Tea menu ensuring the flavours, colours, and experience co-ordinate beautifully on the High Tea stands. My background is in Psychology and Tea Sommelier training. My focus in the business is marketing and the front of house High Tea customer experience. For both of us, it’s all about the High Tea journey ensuring excellence and enjoyment at every stage. From sipping delicious artisan teas, eating handcrafted food items and celebrating in a fun and welcoming space – our High Tea is a form of table theatre. Our partnership works as we both bounce off each other incredibly well. Whilst we approach each situation with our unique ‘financial lens’ (Jess) or ‘marketing lens’ (Sarah) we are able to bring our ideas to the table with non judgement, creative licence, and good business sense. We are both strong personalities so there are definitely points where we disagree however are always able to proceed with logic, discipline, creativity, and our shared core values of high business integrity and high quality service at every front.
Where did the name Mary Eats Cake come from?
Mary Eats Cake is a play on Marie Antoinette’s famous ‘let them eat cake’. We have taken poetic licence to create an Australianised version of this ‘Mary Mascot’. Mary is the part in all of us that loves to dress up, drink from vintage, raise our pinky and feel a bit posh, laugh with friends over champagne, and eye off the last treat on the High Tea stand.
What makes Mary Eats Cake different from other high tea venues in Victoria?
There are sooooo many things! But if we have to cut it short, the top three are:
- Our High Tea items are baked fresh in house and lovingly hand made by our Pastry Chef.
- We create a table theatre experience. At Mary, you are greeted by our very friendly staff and taken on a gustatory journey of artisan teas carefully paired with High Tea savouries and sweets.
- We provide for all sorts of dietary requirements – Gluten free, Vegan, and Vegetarian.
Starting up any new business comes with challenges. What’s the biggest challenge you faced starting Mary Eats Cake and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge we faced in starting was being able to manage our time effectively in those first few weeks. There was so much to be done, and emergency situations screaming at us from all directions. We had to quieten the noise and prioritise, working day and night to get everything together, it was important that we didn’t completely derail ourselves as well. There was one day that we remember particularly. We’d had huge delays on the delivery of our kitchen equipment and were literally 24 hours away from serving our first High Tea, without any way of being able to produce the food items. Probably the most stressful day of our lives, but we rallied together and made it happen. We dealt with the things that were paramount to creating a great experience for our customers, everything else was put to the side.
What’s your favourite tea blend to have with high tea?
That’s a very tough question to answer for tea snobs like us. Generally, we pair our savoury items with our Brunswick Breakfast tea that works well with a touch of milk. Our summer sweets are then paired with a refreshing blend of organic peppermint, spearmint, lemon tones, and lavender. However, we have recently been working on our winter menu that will pair a spiced carrot cake with cream cheese frosting with our Peacock Chai soaked in Agave. It’s a match made in heaven!
What process do you undertake when creating a new tea blend?
Sarah: Intention comes first. There is a tea for each mood and moment and it’s important for me to begin with the why of my blend. If it’s an afternoon pick me up I will most likely work with a black loose leaf base. If it’s an evening blend I will navigate towards herbal infusions. Once my intention is set, there are three elements to tweak. Firstly, I choose the base tea (designed to carry the weight of the flavour for the longest amount of time). Secondly; I smell, combine and test combinations of heart notes for the tea blend. It’s quite a process to ensure the flavours extract at the right water temperatures, in the right amount of time, and in the right balance. Finally; I add the top notes (light florals or fruits). Top notes are the aromas we first smell when we brew a cup of tea. However, they are also the first flavour to disappear when you start to sip so it’s a fiddly first sensory impression to get right.
What’s your must try Mary sweet treat and why?
Coming out of our Summer menu now the big one that everyone has been raving about is the mixed berry cheesecake with black tea syrup, not only visually stunning with deep shades of purple, reds and blues, the tea infusion with the cheesecake makes for an amazing sensory experience that just pops in your mouth.
Which 3 people would you like to have high tea with and why?
Marie Antoinette – couldn’t leave her out considering we named our company after her, not to mention it would be absolutely fascinating to compare the pressures she faced as a woman living in the 1700’s compared to ours now.
Samantha Wills – I just love her story. Small town girl makes it in the big city, not without hard work and sacrifice.
Jess’ late grandmother: I’m so sad that she didn’t get to see all that we’ve achieved. She absolutely loved dressing up for cake and tea and go out with the people she held most dear. It would have been lovely to have shared this experience with her now.
What’s next for Mary Eats Cake?
Mary goes on tour with artisan producers in Melbourne! Launching soon so stay tuned!
Mary Eats Cake
558 Sydney Rd, Brunswick VIC 3056
(03) 8394 5661