Coledale has become the latest conquest in the expansion of a humble food truck in an East Corrimal backyard.
Where once was Sketches Cafe now sits the newest Saltie Dog creperie, which opened in December last year shortly after its first bricks-and-mortar outlet debuted in Wollongong Central.
Saltie Dog Coledale is run by Leigh Stewart OAM and his three children, Annalise, Daniel and Matthew.
The first Saltie Dog food truck was part of an initiative that Leigh hoped would jump-start the local community after COVID lockdowns.
“Everyone had closed themselves into an environment where they didn’t see or talk to their neighbours anymore and I started thinking about ways we could re-engage our community,” Leigh says.
In his backyard in East Corrimal, he started a community garden where people could grow fresh fruit and vegetables – and reconnect. The fruit and vegetables complete with worm farms and composting were soon joined with the first iteration of the Saltie Dog food truck.
“My partner Olena had always made amazing crepes, and crepes have always been a big part of Wollongong’s history,” Leigh says.
“Southern Crepes was an iconic restaurant in the Illawarra for probably 25 years. Sadly, the founder, Pete, passed away about two months ago. There was also a popular crepe shop in Wollongong central that closed eight years ago, so there’s been this gap.”
And so the Saltie Dog food truck became a creperie on wheels, using a traditional East European crepe recipe offering both sweet and savoury options. It was a hit, so much so that the pair decided to expand operations, with a heavily researched system to maximise speed of operation.
“I must’ve watched The Founder about 30 times; I listened to the podcast of how Guzman Y Gomez developed over and over. We met a French chef who has creperies in Manly and Dee Why, he shared his experiences. We looked into Four Frogs here in Sydney and a classic creperie at Flinders Station on Spencer Street in Melbourne that always has a 40-minute wait,” Leigh says.
“Much of it was based on three primary principles – high-quality food, outstanding customer service and speed.
“I knew I wanted everything within arm’s reach for the people at the crepe pan so that when they’re making a crepe, they don’t need to leave that station. That way the customer isn’t ever waiting long, even at our busiest times.”
The current set-up features four professional crepe pans, prepped toppings in a refrigerated bain-marie in front and refrigerated items underneath, allowing both speed and flexibility.
“One of my pet peeves is fixed menus. Everyone’s tastes are different, and we want to accommodate that,” Leigh says.
To that end, the menu has a “build your own” option alongside the pre-designed sweet and savoury crepes, which include the “Stewy’s Special” (with what Leigh says is an all-important combination of feta and mozzarella cheeses), “Olena’s Special” and “Pete’s Favourite” – a tribute to the late founder of Southern Crepes.
The restaurant also offers delicious freshly made cakes such as the traditional Russian honey cake from local baking wizard Tatiana Petrosova, as well as intentionally sourced gourmet pies, treats for canines, and beverages.
“It took me 18 months to find the right juice and two years to find the right kombucha. I am very passionate about it,” Leigh laughs.
“The kombucha is designed by Dr Philip Norrie, an expert in wine health. They’re enhanced with resveratrol and are the healthiest kombuchas in the world. Everything in the restaurant has a story.”
While Leigh “couldn’t be happier” with the reception so far, he says the ultimate goal is to create an “iconic destination in the Illawarra”.
“In a location like this, we have the opportunity to become a destination, but also part of the backbone of our local community,” he says.
”Within the past three weeks, we’ve had people from interstate, England, America, New Zealand and France visit us, and they’ve loved it. But we’ve also had locals come in every single day, and that’s awesome.
“We would love one day to be to Coledale what the Berry Donut Van is to Berry. We’d like to be a Harry’s Cafe De Wheels or a Hayden’s Pies – something grassroots that’s become iconically Australian and something locals can be proud of.”
Saltie Dog is at 748 Lawrence Hargrave Dr, Coledale, and has seasonal opening hours.