An Interview With Marcus McNamara, Owner Of Jungle Juice

Kaitlyn Wilson

Nestled away on Melbourne’s beloved Degraves Street is the famous Jungle Juice Café. The dimly lit room complete with box crate seats and vintage wall art is reminiscent of a New Orleans whiskey joint – you just need to replace the surly bustle of drunken madness with the hustle and bustle of Melbourne’s CBD in peak hour and you have Jungle Juice.

Marcus McNamara at the counter of Jungle Juice

Since the coffee house’s establishment in 1999 it has grown famous around the area for its delicious bagels and freshly squeezed juice combinations. This quaint little place also offers great hospitality and the fantastic and skillful staff is quick with your coffee and serves it with a smile. After starting the business in their late twenties, owners Marcus McNamara and wife Annabelle have a lot to be proud of.
The Culture Trip meets with Marcus to find the juice behind the Jungle Juice and hear what makes a Melbourne city cafe tick.
TCT: How significant is Jungle Juice to Degraves Street? And how has the laneway evolved during your time?
M.M: My wife Annabelle and I started the business in 1999. We have been in the laneway the longest and have seen a lot of change since ’99. Originally the laneway was filled with coin shops, Polish bookshops and odd Russian fashion houses. Sadly, the eccentric retailers of the past have had to move on to make room for the craziness that is Melbourne’s café scene.
TCT: How would you describe Jungle Juice?
M.M: Jungle Juice is an iconic Melbourne laneway, a ‘hole in the wall’ original. With its Harry Potter-style kitchen under the stairs, it delivers miracles out of a tiny space. Take the toasted bagels, for example; they’re cooked to order with love and have amazing fillings such as halloumi, Kransky and a cheeky McBagel. Wash it down with a juice and a coffee. It’s real food with a bit of a floor show; small places like Jungle offer more than the average café experience.

Street view of Degraves Street

TCT: Was this always what you saw yourself doing?
M.M: I knew I always wanted to work for myself; what shape that would take I wasn’t entirely sure. This has allowed me to be creative and social which is very important to me.
TCT: What is the most unusual request you’ve had?
M.M: Unusual requests often coincide with dietary restrictions, so for example, ‘A club sandwich with no bread’ which is a challenge!
TCT: What advice would you give someone who is trying to break into the industry?
M.M: Cashflow! You must be sure to have a little bit of wiggle room and really consider the cost of your rent.

TCT: What’s next for you and Jungle Juice?
M.M: My dream would be to take Jungle Juice to southeast Asia, but it’s a work in progress.
TCT: What is the most memorable moment of your career?
M.M: Meeting lovely people who keep returning and watching young customers return as adults. A current staff member came in here as a four-year-old!
TCT: What would your last meal on earth be?
M.M: Something Thai, it is my favourite cuisine.

Jungle Juice’s adorable children’s book menus

TCT: If you had to pick one of the following, which would it be?
TCT: Coffee or tea?
M.M: Coffee.
TCT: Book or movie?
M.M: Movie.
TCT: Tropical or snow?
M.M: Tropical.
TCT: Abstract or classic art?
M.M: Abstract.

Inside view of Jungle Juice

TCT: Facebook or Twitter?
M.M: Twitter.
TCT: Action movie or romance?
M.M: Action.
Jungle Juice Bar, 20 Centre Pl, Melbourne, VIC, Australia, + 61 (03) 9639 8779
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