We’ve all done it. We’ve all fixed an expression of faraway concentration on our face as we’ve briskly walked by the rattle of a donation bucket. We’ve all cut off the collector midway through their “Do you have a second to save the … ?” while waving them away with a guilty apology.
Perhaps the problem with these donation appeals is their intrusiveness on our day. It’s not that we don’t feel for the pandas, homeless, or the starving, but the approach can often be inconvenient at best and abrasive at worst. Were there a way to give back with barely a detour in your day – of course, anyone would follow through.
This concept is the basis of Portal, a new profit-for-good café at No.1 Martin Place in the Sydney CBD that donates 100 per cent of its profits to charity. Portal is part of the social enterprise The Pure Collective, which also runs other community-minded eateries: Folonomo in Surry Hills and Symbol in North Sydney, and Ame, the group's catering arm. The Pure Collective, in turn, sits under a philanthropic trust called The Pure Foundation. The Foundation’s raison d’être is "for love, not money", and Portal is all about the love.
Co-founder of The Pure Collective is 32-year-old French-born Nicolas Degryse. A graphic designer with a background in hospitality, Degryse says his journey into working for good came from a chance meeting with The Pure Collective's founder Matthew Byrne. “He had this crazy idea to open a cafe where all the profits go back to charity. So I decided to stop everything and get involved,” says Degryse.
Designed by award-winning architects Adriano Pupilli, Portal is undoubtedly a beautiful space. But the stylish booths and blond wood stalactites descending from the ceiling are the least remarkable thing about it. And you shouldn't flock here just because the menu is by ex-Mecca chef Michal Siudeja, although it certainly doesn’t hurt.
The reason to visit Portal is twofold. Firstly, you will directly help a refugee awaiting an emergency visa. Such refugees, unhappily referred to as ‘double negatives’, can be in limbo for up to 18 months while they await a court date. They’re unable to work and have no access to basic services such as Medicare. “They’re left in a hole of the system,” says Degryse. “They have no choice, and they can end up in the black market, on the sex market, or homeless.”
“He had this crazy idea to open a cafe where all the profits go back to charity. So I decided to stop everything and get involved.”
Partnering with The Salvation Army, Portal is helping refugees endure this wait by offering a program that teaches hospitality skills. The refugees aren’t paid; instead, Portal gives uniforms, meals, and makes donations to The Salvation Army. The charity, in turn, provides food, housing, and services such as counselling.
“We’re not expecting anyone to become a chef,” says Degryse. “It’s firstly to re-integrate them and give them a bit of trust, confidence, and to be a part of something.”
He says it’s the first program to work specifically with ‘double negatives’ and admits it has been a steep learning curve. “They’re coming out of big trauma, some come from Syria where there is civil war. Emotionally, it’s hard, especially for the trainers, so we have to adapt,” says Degryse.
Simply by enjoying your morning bircher, your visit to Portal provides social benefit a second way: your purchase supports one of three rotating charities chosen by the cafe.
Currently, Portal is directing profits into Blue Dragon, which rescues children from slavery; Eat Up, which provides Australian children in need with school lunches; and Rural Aid, which supports Australian rural communities. The best part is, rather than tossing a coin in a bucket with a vague assurance your money is going to the right place, you can directly track your do-gooding (plus, what happens to donated proceeds from The Pure Collective's other ventures) via the Portal website.
Of course, to succeed Portal must run as any other restaurant, this means quality and service is absolutely premium. Everything from the breakfast milk bun to the coconut sago pudding is made in-house or sourced from small suppliers with an ethos akin to The Pure Collective.
There are plans to build a training kitchen downstairs and talks of a second CBD café in June. Both are warm-and-fuzzy indications Sydney wants to give. Through The Pure Collective and its impact partners such as Portal, there’s now a low-effort way to do so. “We see charity in a different way; you do everything in your normal life – buy a coffee, go to a restaurant – it doesn’t cost you any more, but just by choosing us, you’re helping,” says Nicolas.
So, the next time you dismiss a charity collector, swing by Portal and alleviate your guilt with a braised brisket Reuben.
Love the story? Follow the author here: Instagram @lara_picone
Mezzanine level, 1 Martin Place, Sydney
Mon - Fri 7 am - 4 pm