In about two weeks’ time, I’ll have been in Canberra for nine years. Out of…
It’s common knowledge that a large percentage of Canberra’s population is not originally from the ACT.
The question “Where are you from?” often comes up in conversation when you meet someone new; the answer “Canberra” is rare enough that it’s still met with surprise when given. But they are out there, these born and bred Canberrans, and they’ve known for years what the rest of Australia is only just starting to realise—it’s a great place to live. Daniel Conroy, owner of The Knox made in Watson, is one of them.
A chef by trade, Daniel has lived in Watson his whole life, and loves the area. He decided he wanted to be a chef when he was in year 12, and always wanted to own his own place. When the opportunity came up to buy the space where Satis used to be, it felt like fate.
“I was talking to the architect who designed my residential property. I told him that I was looking for somewhere to open my own business, so if he heard of anything to let me know,” Daniel said. “A year and a half later, I got a call to tell me that there was a place in Watson that might be suitable.”
Knowing the suburb as well as he does, Daniel feels he has a good understanding of what its residents want, and how the Knox can meet their needs. “I want to cater for all demographics,” he said. “Our menu is simple for that reason—it has some traditional options for those who like them, but also some more creative dishes for those who want something a bit different.
“We’ll be starting with just breakfast and lunch first, but I’m aiming to have The Knox open at night-time as well. There’s a demand for a nice, casual bar in the area so people can go out without having to go into Civic. Food at night will be tapas, and we’ve started the process to apply for a liquor licence.”
With Majura Primary School across the road (which Daniel attended), he’s also dedicated a space in The Knox for kids, when they come in with their mums before and after the school runs. The cafe will feature a blackboard wall, colourful rugs and beanbags, all of which sound like a lot of fun.
But having been a chef for more than 10 years, for Daniel the kitchen is key. “It’s important to set it out well so we’re not limited in terms of what we can do in there,” he explained. “I want a big, bright kitchen where customers can see what we’re doing, and they can smell the food, which is the centrepiece of this place.”
While Daniel clearly has a vision, he stresses that it’s not his alone. “You can’t do everything yourself. My family and friends have all wanted to be involved. They even helped come up with the name ‘The Knox made in Watson’, and my brother-in-law designed the logo.
I wanted something connected with the local area, and the name and logo were perfect. The knife and fork in the logo represent the food, which is the guts of the business, Knox Street is the main street of Watson, and made in Watson has two meanings—connecting with the locals, and the place and its parts literally made in Watson.”
He’s not kidding, either. Sourcing recycled Australian hardwood from a local supplier, Daniel has made The Knox’s tables in the shop space. He’s also made wooden table numbers from pillars that were removed as part of the renovations to the shop, and the blackboard frame in the kids’ corner is from a frame of a mirror that was also there. The Knox’s plates will also be made in Watson by Chris Harford, resident potter and teacher at the Canberra Potters’ Society, who worked with Daniel to design them.
Daniel’s also been getting ideas from the locals and his staff. “I’ve been talking to customers, if they come up to the shop I’ve been showing them around and asking them for their opinions. I think it’s really valuable to give customers a voice, it helps them to really connect with the place when they come in. Some of what’s been done in here has actually been because of suggestions by customers.”
As for staff, “I’m working with people I know and trust,” Daniel said. “The chef was a groomsman at my wedding, the barista is someone we know from Melbourne. All staff have been contributing, having a say in what they want to see on the menu and how it might work.”
Daniel and his staff will be sourcing as much produce as they can get locally. This includes honey from the local beekeepers in Watson, Hackett, and Ainslie, coffee from Red Brick Espresso in Curtin, fresh produce from the Capital Region Farmers’ Market, and maybe even from the primary school.
“The school is part of the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program,” Daniel explained. “I’d really like to get involved with them somehow, whether it be something like using their produce in the café or teaching them how to cook certain things. Since I went to that school, I feel like I owe them something in return.”
All things going to plan, The Knox made in Watson should be opening in late September, and will be well worth a visit.
The place: The Knox made in Watson
Where: Shop 1, 13 Watson Place, Watson
When: Mon-Fri 7am-4pm, Sat-Sun: 7:30am-3.30pm
Food: Traditional café food and café food with a twist
Drinks: Coffee, tea, hot chocolate, soft drinks, smoothies, thickshakes
Contact: Call 02 6255 4615 or visit the website