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Zen Design for "Best Breakfast in the World"

Updated: Apr 3, 2021

On the surface, Bill Granger's Mega-success looks like Magic. Last year I was lucky enough to live a few weeks on the ocean near Kamakura, where yet another Bill's cafe had opened. I couldn't eat there myself, due to the immensely long line of people that flowed down the stairs, down the street.

For the Japanese, it's become something like a visit to the holy land, where people wait in line half the day to receive the blessing that is breakfast at Bills. What do they order? Scrambled eggs and toast.

There is no secret ingredient. The super-simple recipe is there in cookbooks, for us to do at home.

But the food was never the real reason for the pilgrimage.

The good news is, we can recreate everything that's wonderful about Bill's in our own homes and businesses. After 20 years of immersing myself in Japanese Zen culture and Permaculture design, what Bill has done right looks obvious.

I use it in my home and my clients homes, and relationships are transformed, as expected. It's just another easy-to-follow recipe, but it's one that is still new to most parts of Western culture.

Harmony. As seen at Bill's.

Bill closely follows the rules of Zen Aesthetics, which in themselves come from nature, the rules of how to create a healthy stable ecosystem. It's not luxury, and it is simple to achieve. That's why we go to Bill's with so much hope in our hearts.

Here are some of the Design Principles Bill uses, that you can too:

Put yourself in a good light

Put your friends in a good light. Some people only ever see their husbands under the gloom of energy-saving light globes.

That's not going to go well. Outside the Darlinghurst Bill's cafe is a big tree that lets in filtered light. The glare of full sun can be aggressive, and full shade can be depressing. Solutions include grow a vine, get shade cloth, set up your own eating place to let in dapples.

Reduce Useless Diversity. Create love-matches.

Create Families of objects that are different, yet sympathise with each other. Look how the loopy rhythms of the Mirror echo the rhythms of the hand-drawn fig on the blackboard. This harmony, this agreement of different physical things sets a pattern. This can spill over into interpersonal harmony.

How wonderful it is when you meet someone who echos you, your unique perceptions of the world, your preferred rhythms of conversing or quiet.

Increase Useful Diversity: get teamwork happening

Look at these three different nightshades. They are like brothers and sisters, supporting each other as a team. The material is uniform, yet they all play a different role, all allowed to have a shape of their own.

Forcing a round light to do its job at an oblong table wouldn't work. Every single day of its existence, the light would be failing in its life-mission. It would be spilling over where it wasn't needed, and not illuminating the edges of the table where it is needed. The light would be dissatisfied, the table would be let down. The romance between them would be lost.

Allow every creature and object around you to fulfil their mission successfully. This is the heart of Zen, and can be the reason you and the people in your home are so quietly happy.

Forced uniformity is for Armies. Voluntary alignment is for friends.

Avoid Monoculture. Mimic Nature

Having a cascade of levels, a tree out the window gives an outdoors feel.

A forest in nature has a base of limited, calming colours, with interesting, transient things such as birds and flowers in bright and festive hues. At Bills, we are the birds and flowers.

The natural materials of the floor, chairs and table meld, just an unobtrusive stage set for us to attend to and enjoy each other.

Mariko Fogell,  Permacutlure designer & Diana Shapp, eco-architect

Mariko Fogell, Permaculture designer & Diana Shapp, eco-architect

Hire Happy Staff. Honour Them

Your breakfast will be brought to you by the kind of person you would love to live with. There is nothing servile about Bills staff, they seem happy to be there, having a great life, and probably have flowers in their own homes too.

Behind the scenes, kitchen is filled with the same harmony and thoughtfulness as what the guests enjoy at the front. Investing in happy, excellent staff is like an organic farmer who creates good soil. With good soil, you can stop force-feeding with fertilizer, manage dysfunction with punishing pesticides. When you honour people with an environment of consciously chosen beauty, they to start to choose excellence in each gesture.

There is always a cost in telling someone they should put up with thoughtless, broken, mismatched things. Especially if it's yourself.

Create Landscapes

Look closely at this kitchen bench, the site of plating up and fast-paced, accuracy.

It is beautiful, like a landscape. There are cascades of levels, carefully choses limits in colour, harmony. There is no commercial packaging with loud print, nothing default, everything carefully chosen.

There are brothers and sisters: the vessels have all agreed to be the same material and straight-up shape, with exactly the right amount of variation to fulfil a different function well: a handle added or subtracted, round or square.

Use a Grid

In the bench-scape above, you can see straight-edged items such as chopping board and cutlery box are all aligned with each other, 90 degree angles only. To achieve that takes a micro-meditation every time the cook place something down. That brings serenity. The round items are staggered like a cascading landscape. That brings freedom and naturalness.

Straight things like being aligned. Let them go with their nature. Round things like to move around freely. Let them do this too.

Positive, Light Communication

The waiting staff use minimum words to create the sense of maximum connection.

You feel there is no attempt at charm, but they are always ready for warm, interesting genuine exchange, about the flowers, the philosophy of the school across the road, enduring topics.

These are people who are switched on, engaged with life every minute, processing what's happening intelligently and lightly. If you become someone who resists the natural pull to complaining and excuses, you recognise it instantly in others, and it's like being in a safe harbour.

Choose What Surrounds You

You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.

Simply having good neighbours will have an effect on you.

What message can you read through the window?

'Our students are educated locally, to be proactive citizens of a global environment' We care!"

Bills is an example of a human-assembled 'ecosystem' in good working order. When you get to know what makes an ecosystem work or

recipe for being generative and restorative in what you design and create, This Bill with give you a toolkit for channeling all of nature to work in our favour.

When you have a whole ecosystem on your side, real magic starts to happen. The original Bills is located at 433 Liverpool Street, Darlinghurst, Sydney, NSW

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