13 March 2024

Stepping Stone Dickson serves up the best of cafe culture

| Lucy Ridge
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blackboard reads welcome to stepping ston

Cafe Stepping Stone opened its second location in Dickson in late 2023. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

At its most basic, a cafe is a place to get your caffeine fix and get out again. At their best, cafes can be places of connection, creativity and community, in addition to that all-important caffeine. Cafe Stepping Stone has achieved this first at Strathnairn, and now at its second location in Dickson.

Cafe Stepping Stone is a social enterprise employing refugee and migrant women who may otherwise face barriers to employment.

Founded at Strathnairn in 2020 by Vanessa Brettell and Hannah Costello, the Dickson cafe opened last year. It is tucked behind the playing fields in the ground floor of the new Common Ground Dickson housing project, which provides stable housing for low-income Canberrans.

Tasty looking toast dish garnished with leafy greens.

Savoury summer pancakes … Cafe Stepping Stone Dickson style. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

Arriving mid-morning the light-filled space buzzes with life. There are groups of cyclists, parents with prams, students working on laptops, and friends catching up.

The day I visited there was a sustainable clothes swap happening on the verandah, other days you might see a silent book club (paradise for introverts), people returning from the weekly running club, or the monthly Menopause Cafe gathering. The adjacent studio space also runs inclusive Yoga for Posture classes. Most of the events are either free or low cost to make them accessible to all.

The food here is excellent: the menu is entirely vegetarian with many vegan options. I’ve enjoyed the Turkish cilbir eggs which are served in a garlicky yoghurt sauce and topped with chilli oil. Mopped up with toasted sourdough it makes a very tasty start to the day.

On other occasions the potato masala toastie has been a comforting carb-loaded option, with a generous side of pickles. Last time I visited, a friend ordered the mushrooms on toast which looked absolutely brilliant.

Delicious looking two-tiered carrot cake with frosting and a cup of coffee.

Be tempted by the carrot cake at Cafe Stepping Stone, Dickson. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

Stepping Stone also stands out for its cabinet of house-made sweets. I’m intrigued by the delicious-looking sweet potato brownie (which is a favourite of vegan and gluten-free customers alike) but I usually order the carrot cake.

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While I will always give an honourable mention to the delicious carrot cake made by Region’s Group Editor Genevieve Jacobs, the Stepping Stone Cafe carrot cake is hands down my favourite in Canberra.

With a flavour-packed, feather-light crumb and topped with just the right amount of cream cheese frosting, this double-decker cake always looks and tastes magnificent!

Hearty toastie with pickles and a pink coffee cup.

Enjoy a comforting potato masala toastie at Cafe Stepping Stone Dickson. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

There are a mix of large tables, which make great communal seating for those of us pretending to work from home, as well as outside tables which look out over the bike path next to Sullivans Creek. The smaller tables inside are perfect for coffee catch ups.

The employees at Stepping Stone are genuinely some of the most attentive and friendly front-of-house staff I’ve come across in Canberra. They are always careful to make sure they get your order correct, and I have witnessed multiple instances of staff helping out new trainees with patience and kindness.

Hospitality can be a fast-paced, hot-headed industry but there were no short tempers in sight at Stepping Stone.

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There is sometimes an expectation of long wait times, or reduced quality at training cafes but I’ve generally found Stepping Stone to be at a similar (or higher!) standard compared to other Canberra cafes, although I always recommend patience during busy times, regardless of location.

Man in suit stands next to woman in apron behind a coffee machine.

A staff member teaches Chief Minister Andrew Barr to use a coffee machine at the launch of the cafe in 2023. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

The baristas make a great cup of coffee using beans from Yass-based Six8 Coffee Roasters, and there’s also a great selection of other hot and cold drinks like the pots of infused sticky chai, or a Morning Energy smoothie. Other drinks reflect the culture of the staff like doogh, an Afghani yoghurt drink with salt and cucumber, or the Syrian lemon and mint polo.

This is a cafe that makes you feel good. The food is nourishing, the coffee hits the spot and the atmosphere is welcoming.

Do yourself a favour, and support the cafe supporting others.

Cafe Stepping Stone Dickson is located at Hawdon Place, Dickson. It is open from Tuesday to Saturday 8 am to 3:30 pm (kitchen closes at 2:30 pm). It also offers catering. Follow Cafe Stepping Stone on Facebook or Instagram, and find out more on the website.

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Teaching the Chief Minister how to make coffee. Might come in handy as his next job after October 2024.

Was at their west Belconnen one on the weekend and loved it. Great location with fantastic food and super friendly staff.
Yum- potato masala toastie and Polo drink

Lovely staff and atmosphere. Shame it has been ‘discovered’ but all praise to everyone involved in its operation.

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