Eat, drink, run and connect with the formidable owners of Tanaka Coffee in Melbourne, Ruby and Nez. A cafe and community hub, Tanaka provides opportunities to connect with new people through a range of initiatives and volunteer programs - whilst making badass sandwiches and a quality cup of joe. Their Run Club kicked off earlier this year. Banding together anyone down for a run and hang, with Nez leaving everyone to eat his dust. 

You're both new to running?
(Ruby) I’m a solo runner and prioritise the shop a little too much. But I started and found it a great way to meditate and enjoy that, rather than the group runs. We’re currently working on starting a female based run group and I am keen to join that, so hopefully that’ll start after the lockdown. 

(Nez) I only started running in January for my mental health and to find an outlet. It was literally just to find a more healthy coping mechanism other than just getting hammered when life gets stressful. So I went for a run, I did like 3km and it sucked. But I committed to it and it was literally just me running away from my thoughts to avoid drinking too much. 
And from there?
(Nez) I wanted to start my own thing, so I called it, ‘Running Scared’ and thought, let’s see if anyone else feels like this? As things went on we tried to roll with Running Scared, it wasn’t getting much traction. People were coming into the cafe and asking about it and mentioning they wanted to run and it made more sense to join it with the cafe. You interact with so many people on a daily basis, so why not just call it Tanaka Running Club? 

(Ruby) I’ll never forget the first session. Nez had a few people teed up who seemed interested. Wednesday morning rolled around and no one showed up. It was a bit disheartening but, oh well, no big deal. Then out of nowhere, this dude Will turned up and he’s like, ‘I’m here for the running club?’ It was a really cool feeling and it’s just grown from there.

(Nez) I started getting right into it. I just got a GPS watch and discovered Strava, and that was just wild being able to track everything. One of our customers was friends with Ben Clement (AM:PM Run Crew) and mentioned I should link up with him. I went to one of their sessions and we just talked about running, health and mental health, and from there I created connections through the AM:PM crew. 

How does the Tanaka Run Club currently look?
When not in lockdown, Wednesday morning is our main session where we get a strong crowd and head to the Melbourne Uni track. Friday morning is more low key. Usually just a few people linking up for an easy run around Princess Park for a few laps. 

Both runs start and finish at the cafe, always with a post run coffee and time to catch up. 
Tell us about the cafe, Tanaka Coffee?
We keep a menu of simple sandwiches and coffee, and sell convenience through veggies, snacks and take home meals. But most importantly we focus on engagement with the community - the idea being, connect with us by focusing on helping yourself and/or helping others.

Tanaka effectively means ‘we are well’. It’s the name given to the child - the community's child that helps us feel better. ‘As a community we are well', is what it means to us.

You’ve got some amazing community projects happening...
Well we started doing the food boxes rather than food to table last year, because that was the demand at the given time. We wanted to provide convenience and create a community. Then community initiatives have just kick started from there. 

Coming together as a neighbourhood and tackling different challenges is great. We’ve linked up with a school and many new people. If you want to learn about food, you’ve got the farm project. Want to get healthy and fitter, the running club. Or if you’re someone who wants to volunteer but don’t have a way to/not sure how to go about it, you can get involved with Tanaka food relief/food waste and make some chilli sauce. 

How does the farm project work?
The dream has always been to have a cafe or shop that grows its own food to cook and share with the community you live within. We both have an interest in food systems and wanted to learn more about growing, wastage, food insecurity, mileage and so on. 

(Nez) My family farm is in the Gippsland area, so that was a great starting point and to have a connection to the farmland. We’ve just taken on some new land for our garden project and aim to grow food for 4 seasons. Even if we fail, we will learn how to respect and learn where things come from.
That’s not all you do though…
Typically on Sundays, we have a community centred idea. Runners, locals from the cafe and anyone else who’s keen do some gardening at the school link up. It’s a great time for us and we enjoy it while having a beer. The garden is great, it serves as a transitional process and therapy for the primary school students and creates a nice space for the kids. 

We’re also putting together a team to develop a leadership program with the youth in public housing. We’re continuously brainstorming and working on how we can get more involved.

Future plans for the Run Club? 
More forms of movement. We’ve started doing some Yoga and will pick this up again post lockdown ideally on Wednesday evenings. A few runners we know have Yoga backgrounds and have shown interest in leading some volunteer sessions. We’ve got access to a community centre, so we are aiming to use that as our HQ for the Run Club and Yoga sessions. 

We are also going to start a female run club on Friday mornings post lockdown. 

Any personal goals for running?
(Ruby) I want to be more consistent. At the moment I am trying to do 5 x 4km runs a week - 3 outdoor, 2 indoor on the treadmill. I mainly want to just focus on movement in general and just get outside more and be more healthy. This is the first time I’ve been running consistently and tracking what I’m doing. 

(Nez) I like the 10k as a distance to race and I’d love to run 32 - 33 minutes. It’s a hard distance but it’s also a quick and fast distance. It would take a lot of discipline and conditioning, but given I’ve only really been running consistently for 6 months and I’m able to do under 35 quite comfortably - I think it’s within reach. I really like the more aggressive burst of speed. Get into gear and go out hard, but also hold on at the same time. I’d do a half to see how my endurance has built over time. I did a 30km solid run recently and I enjoyed that. I’d do a marathon one day for the sake of it, it’s something you’ve gotta conquer.
Learn more, get involved, go for a run and connect with this amazing crew through Tanaka_Coffee_Melbourne