Nathalie Moussi, along with her brothers Marc and Carlo, grew up with an inside look into the hospitality world. The Moussi family has been building their hospitality empire ever since they arrived in Australia, after immigrating from Lebanon in the 1950s. The siblings’ father John owned a host of venues along McCann and Little Malop streets; it was only natural his children end up opening their own.
Enter restaurant, cafe and bar The Federal, in North Geelong, which opened in early May of this year. Connection to her roots has afforded Moussi a ready-built following of customers, keen to see the family tradition continued.
“The majority of our clientele has been people of my dad’s generation coming in, remembering the good old days of Geelong in the ’50s and ’60s, so it’s been quite great actually; they’re giving us back a piece of our family history that we weren’t necessarily aware of,” she says.
History seems to be a theme at The Federal, with a major draw card for the venue being the building itself. The venue runs out of the historic Federal woolen mills in North Geelong. Originally built in stages throughout the late 1910s to 1920s, the mill provided employment to hundreds of Geelong workers. Throughout the second world war, the mill was a major supplier of uniforms to Australian soldiers.
“It was part of the fabric of Geelong, if you’ll pardon the pun,” says Moussi. “I’ve actually had a lot of people come in and tell me they were workers here. I had one lady come in that was 92 years old and she told me she got her first job here in 1940. You just don’t hear that anywhere else. It really was part of Geelong’s history and it was forgotten for a little while.
“It’s been great bringing an old building back to life and making it relevant to Geelong once again, but in a different way,” Moussi explains.
Keen to see the Federal be the community hub it once was, Moussi says she wants the venue to be for everybody: “young, old, young at heart. We want it as a revival of sorts for everyone.”
Visually stunning, the fit out of the building was curated by interior designer Kylie Sargent. The original red brick and black trusses across the roof pay homage to the era in which the building was originally constructed. So too do the finer details of the venue. Industrial style chandeliers hark back to its woolen mill history and of course, the opulent era in which it was built. Art deco influences can be found in the herringbone design laser cut panels found all around the main dining area. Vibrant teal upholstery brings a splash of colour and warmth, offset by the deep red of the brick.
As for the food? “It’s a touch of Melbourne, a touch of Geelong, a touch of modern Australia and a touch of my culture; I’ve definitely tried to bring a bit of my culture so you’ll see a few Lebanese items in there.”
Diners who fancy themselves traditionalists will still be able to find their regular favourites, with staples like eggs benedict and smashed avo proving to be hits on the breakfast menu. Ingredients are locally sourced as often as is possible, although some of the more boutique Lebanese ingredients come from Melbourne.
Sweet tooths haven’t been forgotten either. All cakes are made in house and stay tuned: a dedicated dessert menu is in the works.
The Federal is located at 13-35 Mackey St, North Geelong and is open seven days a week.
Visit thefederalgeelong.com.au or phone (03) 5210 8000.
Written by Lauren Muscat