Culture

What We Found At The $5 Nutella Pop-Up (Other Than A $5 Spoon Of Nutella)

"We didn't create the monster; you guys did."

“Welcome to Spoonful of Sugar, have you dined with us before!” It’s the first (and most likely only) night of business for Melbourne’s newest “pop-up experience” and five people in matching yellow tops are yelling at us in unison. It’s 6pm. Thirty minutes after the store opened its doors for the first time.

Spoonful of Sugar has been all over the world in the past six days. A photo advertising a $5 spoon of Nutella (among other spreads) was posted on a mysterious Facebook page with less than 1,000 people. It was then re-posted on Brown Cardigan with the caption “Meanwhile, in Melbourne”, and condemnations of the “new trend” took hold with stories on Ten News, The Daily Mail and more. BuzzFeed then cast doubt on it all. Observer analysed the photography in an attempt to unmask its creator. SmartCompany, not concerned about whether it was real or fake, asked marketing execs to use the example to relay business tips.

Outside of the internet, in a small cafe in Windsor, there’s just us — two pop culture writers hoping for something interesting — and seven or so people in neon yellow who are dancing over a large spread of empty teaspoons and two loaded display spoons: Naughty Nutella and Playful PB&J. We feel outnumbered. It’s the two of us versus the crowd of leering, cheering staff, so pumped they’re almost aggressively accomodating.

In the back of the tiny space there’s a DJ with full decks blasting. One of the “spokespeople”, Dan Thomas, tells us: “If you’ve got a hot concept, and you want a hot launch, well, you need a hot DJ.” Someone else surreptitiously breaks out a six-pack of Furphy behind the counter.

We covertly discuss whether we can actually bring ourselves to pay the asked-for $5 for a spoonful of Nutella. A bouncy blonde woman, clutching a stack of post-it notes and a Sharpie, cheerily pesters us for our order. “Ok, two Naughty Nutella,” we say. She draws a smiley face and passes on our order to a dancing bearded man in an Akubra. The order echoes around the cafe as, one after another, each staff member repeats it.

“Two Naughty Nutella!”

“Two Naughty Nutella?”

“Two Naughty Nutella!”

The bearded man, Alexander Holt, scoops two spoons of Nutella, sprinkles over some coconut, then holds his creations aloft.

“Two Naughty Nutella! Two Naughty Nutella!”

We take our spoons and retreat to the corner. It certainly is a spoonful of Nutella.

What?

Alexander Holt and Dan Thomas are the two people who were investigated and pursued in the media circus around the viral pic. Holt is the owner of EZY PZY, the cafe where the pop-up is based. Dan Thomas runs the Facebook page Melbourne Cool, where the picture was first posted. If you haven’t seen it yet, imagine Broadsheet if Broadsheet were run by people who were high and also hated Broadsheet.

The page’s tagline is “If it’s Melbourne, and it’s cool, it’s Melbourne Cool”, and it’s made six deeply cooked product recommendations over the past two years.

“How did you enjoy your spoonful?” Thomas asks.

“It was… a spoonful of Nutella.”

He nods enthusiastically. “Sometimes you want dinner. Sometimes you just want a taste of things.” This, the shop’s slogan, is an oft-repeated phrase at the pop-up launch.

As more people file in the door (most of whom are mates with the staff), there are more imperial cheers. Everyone looks dazed and amused. “T-shirts are available for pre-order!”, Holt yells from behind the teaspoons. Thomas tells us they are thirsting for that “after-dinner crowd”. “We’ve had a few people promise they’ll come back after a glass of wine.”

“It’s just a big fuck you.”

He is, however, very pleased with the media attention over the past week. Though there’s some resentment about the pushy phone calls from the BBC and 4am requests for comment from the US, Thomas describes the whole thing as “better than we could have hoped”. “We were waiting for Junkee though. Good job on holding off, I guess.”

Though the spokespeople are reluctant to answer many questions about why this is happening or what they wanted out of it, they are genuinely keen to tell us the money is going to charity. The refrain, that it’s for “a charity for disadvantaged kids”, is the only thing getting people to fork over the cash. All the takings are going to Prahran Rotary Club’s Homework Club run out of the local housing estate around the corner.

Melbourne Cool

The now world-famous $5 spoon of Nutella is part of a long-running internet sub-genre of knowing Melbourne Wank. We’ve had the deconstructed latte, the blue algae latte, and the avolatte; The Age‘s controversial Melbourne Man; a variety of bars and cafes dedicated to icons of ’90s pop culture. Last year a crowd gathered around a tape recorder in a Fitzroy laneway to listen to Bon Iver. The line between piss-take and genuine marketing exercise is more blurred than ever, often deliberately so.

Virality is a well-established currency and there’s little that gets more clicks than hipster bashing.

But even when you’re inside the store, it’s hard to figure out exactly where Spoonful of Sugar sits and what it’s trying to achieve. It’s like a sketch from Portlandia and, in some way, that only adds to the cringe.

After a private powwow outside, Holt and Thomas decide they can drop the act with us. Crikey have the exclusive. They’ve given all the info to Media Watch because Holt has “a great deal of respect for Paul Barry”. Basically, they wanted to call the media’s bluff on their joke and put the whole thing on for fun. They relay frustrating conversations they’ve had with journalists who pressured them to explain the whole plan.

“We don’t need this!” Holt says. “We’re not the mainstream media. We didn’t create the monster; you guys did.” He looks out to the street, where people are walking past, slightly confused by the sign for $5 Nutella and deep bass emanating from the cafe. “It’s just a big fuck you!”

That should probably feel more personal than it does. After all, we’ve trekked over here to write 1,000 words on a spoon of Nutella we saw on the internet. But there’s something impressive, if deeply unsettling, about the dedication with which the group stick to their characters — covert bottles of Furphy aside.

As we stumble out the door, knowing we’ve got all the answers we’re ever going to get from Holt, Thomas et al, in spite of ourselves we’re both grinning broadly. We got what we came for: a $5 spoonful of Nutella.

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Meg Watson is the Editor of Junkee. Matilda Dixon-Smith is Junkee’s Staff Writer. They both enjoy Nutella.