It’s been said that a person’s energy can announce them well before you’re formally introduced. A drop into Tinker, newest kid on Northcote’s block, redefined this theory. Met with a bounding enthusiasm, a palpable purpose and intensity. It was a wave we were happy to get on board with, courtesy of one highly animated Julien Moussi.  

Buzzing around the fresh space and he assembles the team for a few quick photos. A little camera shy, Julien’s quick to deflect some of the shots to partner Adam who’s happy to flash a smile, well-oiled from his days in the real estate game. Settling in, we pick the boys’ brains on the new venture and the successes so far.

Julien’s a man on a mission. The 28-year-old founder has opened nine standout hospitality venues in the past four years and although you may not know his name (yet), you definitely know his work.

Tinker Northcote, the most recent addition for the man behind Penta, Age of Sail, Temperance Society and My Other Brother (MOB Espresso) has just opened at 235 High Street and for the East-ender’s first venture in the upper North, it’s looking right at home. The interior space is bright and welcoming. Understated, an overuse of white contrasts cool grey joinery. Against the clean backdrop, a calm blue accent pops. It’s the Tinker blue, lifted from a palette representative of the brand (as defined by the authority Pop & Pac). The compliment, in a seamless marriage between interior and identity, is no coincidence – it’s curated. An indication that proprietor, Julien Moussi, clearly values design and a telling sign that he’s no novice at this café game.

The entrance to their new venture bears the tagline ‘Mischievous Dreamers’ in an affectionate tribute to the founders’ youth. The cheeky adaptation – of a journey between friends – became the inspiration for the brand identity, as articulated by Pop & Pac. 

“You can touch people from afar with the Branding,
whereas people have to be inside first to feel the fit-out”

Partners Julien Moussi, Kristy-Lea Deva, Adam Voscale and Ben Argentino have a long history in life, now extended into business. The collective, alongside “gun” Executive Chef come partner Nicky Campbell form a new breed in the hospitality industry, emerging as more commercially-minded creatives. Despite their median age, the Moussi crew are well-seasoned. Putting in the hard yards they’ve traded hospitality heartache for commercial success without sacrificing the service. 

Exercising both sides of the brain, the team have combined the commercial (tight strategic metrics, finance control and savvy leasing) with the creative. Keeping it tight while supporting their concepts with great design, strong branding and an on-point social media presence they are well on their way to building an empire. It was from humble beginnings. Raised in old school hospitality, Julien was pouring coffees at his family’s Docklands café alongside his four sisters from yay high. 

“It’s funny how it chooses you” he muses, reflecting on the unfortunate (or fortunate) knee reconstruction that decided his fate. The injury forced Julien, then 21, to abandon his career in fitness and think more seriously about hospitality. Finding opportunities in small spaces, Julien started out with coffee contracts at local football grounds. Working hard to save his own capital, 2012 began his café career acquiring Annoying Brother Espresso in Carlton North. From here it was full steam ahead and after the success of his second venue, MOB Espresso, Julien moved from DIY to high design. A great example of which is Penta, by Ritz and Ghougassian, which he opened in 2016. For many of Julien’s ventures it starts with

location and Tinker was no exception. For Julien and ex-agent Adam, real estate is somewhat of a passion so when it comes to new opportunities they don’t shy away from doing their homework.

So what are they looking for? “Everything - density in a suburb. We look for infrastructure, like a Coles a Woolworths, banks, even TAB’s. Wherever there is a multinational, we know that those companies have done their due diligence. If they’re putting a place in, they’ve done their research.” Julien says. Speaking in his native tongue, Adam expands, “As soon as we started looking at this (Tinker), I started going to auctions on Saturdays and looking at the people who were bidding. It’s always going to be the downsizers, young families, it’s (Northcote) a gentrified area.” “If the property market is thriving in a suburb, you know that the people who are buying there are the right people for what we do and so it was a no-brainer for Northcote” Julien explains. It’s a methodical approach, but it’s this analysis that’s reaping the team their return on each investment. Second to location, the team consider the concept’s execution – and how to best optimise for their market and budget. As their first collective venture, Tinker had a soft spot. With such a personal back story, the branding became the priority. “You can touch people from afar with the Branding, whereas people have to be inside first to feel the fit-out” Julien says. This time round the interior was kept low key, with much of the work done by Ben and Adam. Instead of overspending on fancy lighting (although the lighting seems pretty fancy) the team saw the greater value in their Brand investment and entrusted previous collaborators Pop & Pac to bring Tinker to life.

“Hobby and business are very different things, people fall in love
with the idea of doing something, rather than the deal.”

Julien has long invested in design and has a close collaborator in architect Jean-Paul Ghougassian. “I’m very passionate about interior design and architecture,” he says, “Ritz & Ghougassian do all of our design. They’ve done great projects – they’ve got great taste. They’re like-minded, young, enthusiastic – everything we are basically.” 
His commitment to Ghougassian’s work has seen the completion of Collective Espresso & Kitchen, Boss Pizzeria, Legacy, Temperance Society (courtyard), Age of Sail and Penta. And if Penta is anything to go on, the pair don’t mind taking a risk. Constructed from 4800kg of concrete joinery and a wall of stainless steel, we’re sure that’s what Julien’s referring to when he says “we love doing things that are different.”

Spending half an hour with the boys, their ideals on hospitality becomes evident. It’s a simple and effective philosophy, shared with the best in the industry - good coffee, good vibes, good people. “Culture’s very strong. We’re a really young, excited team and we try to make sure 

we invest time in all the crew because they’re obviously an important part to what we do” 
he says. Julien credits strong collaborations in maintaining the momentum. Stressing the importance of getting involved with people who align with your vision. “We want to associate ourselves with staff or business associates that are like-minded. Everyone’s passionate – if you’re going to do something, do it well.” He states.

Each of Julien’s venues carry a familiar vibe. Like the signature soundtrack of 90’s hip hop that follows him from venue to venue, triggering nostalgic smiles in its wake. In an industry built of impacting people positively, it’s no wonder he’s getting ahead. That energy that impacted us on our first meeting (and every subsequent meeting after that) – a passion – contagious and slightly addictive, it’s no surprise the team exude the same inspired air of pure, unabated ambition. Wondering what’s next? If the past is any indication of future plans, we’re confident the next venture for Julien and the team is just on the horizon. It would be advisable to watch this space.

5 Rules in Business according to Julien Moussi

1. It isn’t enough to love it, you have to make it work.

2. It’s not a hobby. It’s a business.

3. Know your numbers.

4. Know how to structure a deal.

5. Surround yourself with the right people.