Openings: Emmett's Cafe Introduces Aussie Coffee Culture to South High

Erin Edwards
Emmett's Cafe, which neighbors Moses Barber & Groom on South High Street

Emmett’s Café co-owner Ben Kelley has an eye for talent. The local real estate developer and co-founder of Kelley Companies has been instrumental in wooing restaurant and bar industry all-stars to South High Street, turning it into one of the city’s most vibrant food and drink districts. 

"My passion has always been in hospitality and in the restaurant business,” Kelley says. “That's always what I wanted to get into. I enjoyed going out and trying to find these creative tenants in Columbus, like the Seven Sons, like [Ambrose and Eve’s] Catie Randazzo. They have these unique concepts that I think Columbus really wants and needs. And so that's what I was trying to do with this area down here, where we went out and got Antiques on High. We went out and got Law Bird. We went out and got Ambrose and Eve. It's these local spots that are bringing a unique energy to Columbus that I really enjoy being around."

When the building at 744 S. High St., a former architecture firm, became available recently next to Law Bird, Kelley saw another opportunity. While South High had developed a thriving bar culture, Kelley believed it was missing an eatery with a strong coffee program (the café/bakery Dough Mama had not yet opened down the street). Enter Emmett’s, which celebrates its grand opening on Saturday.

To bring together Emmett’s three key components—drink, food and service—Kelley has assembled an impressive team of partners, including veteran barista Robin Myers (formerly Pistacia Vera and Brioso Coffee), chef Lara Yazvac Pipia (formerly Freedom a la Cart and a Columbus Crave Tastemaker) and Northstar Café alum Josiah Littrell. 

When discussing inspiration behind the shop, the Emmett’s team frequently mentions Australia and its unique café culture. There, the independent coffeehouse is viewed as central to a laid-back lifestyle—a concept at odds with the American ethos that coffee exists to fuel the workday. Instead of a coffee shop where customers grab their drip coffee, a pastry and run out the door, Kelley wants to create a “high energy” coffee shop with dynamic dining, too. 

"I think in spots around town, they're really good at coffee or they're good at food, but few places have that full espresso bar and also really delicious food where you don't need to leave to go somewhere else to get food,” Kelley says. “You can have that high energy environment and stay in one spot."

Here, coffee and tea are treated in much the same way that a craft cocktail bar handles its libations: with an emphasis on high quality ingredients, precision and creativity.

Myers, who is a proud product of Columbus’ coffee scene, has decided to showcase an outside roaster for its drip coffee and espresso drinks: Melbourne, Australia-based roaster, Proud Mary Coffee Co. "We're doing something specific. We love Columbus coffee. We think that it's absolutely incredible, and it has this dynamic mix, but we really wanted to reach out and bring a unique product line that is amazing” that you can’t experience elsewhere in Columbus, Myers says. 

Rounding out the drink menu are Rishi teas and a variety of playful refreshments, such as a vegan, house-made chai (decaf by default) and the Chai Ginger Fizzy, a drink served over an orange-ginger ice cube that changes the drink over time. “We're also going to have cold brew cubes, so you can get like an iced—anything really—and as it melts, it will only get better,” Myers says.

On the food side of things, the day starts with breakfast items like the One-Handed, a play on the classic Egg McMuffin with herbal notes from a rosemary aioli contrasted with a salty, crispy prosciutto. “It's just a little bit decadent, which is nice,” Yazvac Pipia says. Even more decadent is the Meat + Tato sandwich, featuring egg, chorizo, pickled onion, tater tots and house-made green hot sauce on a locally sourced Matija Breads roll. Also open for lunch and dinner, Emmett’s menu includes a variety of bowls, salads, sandwiches and pitas, including a house-made falafel pita.

Speaking of lingering, perhaps one of Emmett’s biggest assets is its large back patio, which boasts several wooden benches and tables, plants, lights and heat lamps. The café will also debut with limited dine-in seating and, of course, takeout. 

It’s early yet—and we’re still in a pandemic—but one can already envision an Emmett’s in several local neighborhoods. “I think places that are like this should open during [hard] times, because what better time to have a business that is all about making people happy?” Myers says. “We've spent so much time on research, energy, passion. We're putting this in to bring people joy and joy is timeless.”

Check out Emmett’s flagship when it officially opens this Saturday. Hours are 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. daily.

Columbus Monthly