East End café Exchange has reopened with a lighter and brighter aesthetic and an expanded menu – including a new sandwich that might challenge the Wallace’s supremacy.
Exchange Coffee is back
CityMag visits on the day of East End café Exchange’s reopening.
What we’d anticipated to be a relaxed Tuesday afternoon was in fact unbridled bustle – the café packed to the brim, every visible seat taken, with no room for an annoying journalist to jump in and take photos.
Tom Roden, owner of Exchange, undertook this expansion simply to cater for the sheer volume of people who walk through Exchange’s doors – many of whom showed up on this gloomy, rainy Tuesday.
When we catch Tom for a chat, he reiterates that the refit was “out of necessity [rather] than want”.
“We had well and truly outgrown the old space,” Tom says. “To the point where our busiest days were becoming a little unmanageable from a back-of-house perspective.”
After putting up with a space fit for half the volume of people Exchange typically attracts, Tom expanded the interior, gave the place a “substantial facelift”, and said goodbye to the dark, 2013-esque aesthetic.
“I really wanted to have a breath of fresh air in that place,” Tom says.
“I mean everything is new in there — the kitchen is brand new, and much more capable and functional; all the internals are brand new; the aesthetic is new and greatly improved; the functionality of the space will be greatly improved [and] much more comfortable.
“It’s really a top to bottom improvement.”
Though Exchange’s expansion was a necessity, fate played a role.
With neighbouring haircutter Frank Vaiano now in retirement, the café was able to expand sideways at the perfect moment.
“Had he retired maybe two or three years prior, we may not have been in the position to do this,” Tom says.
“And had he continued trading for another two or three years… we would’ve had to sort of graft in the old space, which was becoming a little hard to work in.”
The menu, like the fitout, has also had a revamp.
The new additions are hot cakes with Southern fried chicken, house-cured salmon, fresh pasta, lamb shoulder, and the most anticipated item on the Exchange 3.0 menu: a sandwich to stand alongside the Wallace (which is no small feat).
Sando #1 is packed with mortadella, stracciatella, green olive tapenade, tomato, pickled onion, basil, and a touch of chilli paste.
For West End workers yet to Rundle Street for lunch, the Wallace is a cult favourite, and has been on the menu since the early days of Exchange – years before Adelaide hospo collectively jumped on the sando train.
With only a touch of hyperbole, Tom compares his café’s historical menu staple to another icon.
“Apple is not going to stop selling iPhones, and we’re not going stop making Wallace’s,” Tom says.
According to Tom, the Wallace is a “banging sandwich” with a “long and storied” history, involving Adelaide Uni dental students and their frequent ventures to Vardon for lunch.
“We were talking about putting a new sandwich on the menu, they came up to us and sort of had this joke competition [and were] like, ‘Can we have the sandwich named after one of us’, essentially,” Tom says.
“So, the sandwich became the Wallace, and the rest is history.”
Change is always difficult, and Tom has made a conscious effort to uphold the history of the old Exchange – through his commitment to the Wallace and to Vardon.
“It’s like if you’ve got a favourite music artist; you know, ‘Oh I really like that first album… I don’t like their new music’,” Tom says.
“It’s kind of a little bit like that — I think it can be pretty easy to see change in a place that you really like and resist that, but the changes that we have implemented here have always been for the betterment of the business, and for the betterment of the community.”
Coinciding with Tom’s need for growth, Exchange has built a strong-willed and thriving community, which started from the in-house work culture and has resulted in life-long regulars.
“Workplace culture is really, really important to me, and to us,” Tom says.
“As a result… we have a team of people that is not only warm and friendly, but can engage with our community and in many cases form genuine friendships with them.
“It’s really not just a transactional interaction.”
Exchange Coffee is located at 12/18 Vardon Avenue and is open from 7am until 4pm from Monday to Friday, and 8am until 4pm on the weekend.
Connect with the business on Instagram.