For many Aranda residents, the local shopping centre, lying derelict and unloved for longer than they care to remember, has been an eyesore; but all that is about to change. Thanks to a new lease and a collaborative vision of the young and inspired entrepreneurs that represent both landlord and tenant, the facility is to be converted into a hospitality precinct that will host a café and roastery, bar, library, wood fired pizzeria, boutique bottle shop and providore style grocer.
The new master tenant is well known café and roaster Two Before Ten; and construction is well advanced on the first stage of the project, with installation of the coffee roasting plant complete and the café due to open mid February. Plans to create an urban garden and be relatively self sufficient in regard to vegetable produce are also in the pipeline, and the design faculty at UC is getting its students involved in the renewal project.
Commissioned in the late 1960s to service the suburb with the usual array of convenience stores, the aesthetically challenging Dirk Bolt designed building has been in steady decline since the 1980s, and completely abandoned for the last decade. Like many small suburban facilities in Canberra, it no doubt had its heyday when the suburb was young, but an aging demographic along with serious competition from the nearby Westfield and Jamison centres made it an unfeasible proposition in recent years.
Over time, the property had become somewhat of a liability for owner Gaha Holdings Pty Ltd; but siblings Gaby and Nicole Gaha, who manage the property for the company that was founded by their late father, had a creative vision to reinvent the space along the lines of a local hospitality hub, and so they put the feelers out for an interested party that would be prepared to take it on. “We had the option of selling the property, or applying to redevelop it as a health facility or residential units. But we wanted to do something a little special, and so commenced discussions with a number of potential tenants,” says Nicole.
As luck would have it, Two before Ten, a regular coffee spot for the siblings, was closing due to the Canberra House redevelopment, leaving owner Chris Dennis with a decision about what to do next. “The timing was impeccable. We were closing because of the redevelopment, and even though the Morris Group (Canberra House landlords) were brilliant in accommodating us during the work, I was really interested in expanding the roasting operation, and getting it out of a retail environment,” says Chris. “Gaby and Nicole were regulars at Two Before Ten, we were always talking to them, and they started sussing us out for a place to put the roaster. Then it sought of evolved and at some point Gaby said we should do heaps of different stuff there, and the idea really started making sense.”
Of course, the fact that the property was derelict was a concern, as was the location. “Nobody would touch it, probably because it’s in Belconnen,” says Chris. “But if you ask the market what it wants, I’m certain it doesn’t want another coffee shop in Braddon or the city. It would probably say it wants something at Aranda shops, it wants something in Belconnen, or in Woden or in Tuggeranong, but there is very little chance that any of the established operators would go to those places.”
Eager to get the ball rolling, the guys have already started serving the locals from a mobile trailer, and a number of outdoor tables are arranged along the front of the building. Chris says the the place is already doing a reasonable trade on most days and even filling up on weekends, but he’s most impressed about the crowd the new venture is attracting. “This is a sophisticated market. Similar to inner suburbs like Ainslie or O’Connor, a lot of them are retired and own their homes out right. They have a disposable income, but more than that, they are engaged, educated and savvy. Many of them, their physical age may be 60 or 70 or beyond, but they get it, they really get it,” he says. “It’s like, you know, the retired academic who lives down the road, he’s the most interesting person in town.”
Barista ‘JJ’ Sadkowsky, who actually built the rig that is currently serving coffees to the locals, concurs. “People are parking and jumping out for a take away on weekday mornings, and filling the place on a weekend,” he says. “I’m meeting new and interesting people every day. And more than that, they are interested in what’s happening here.” Right on cue, a few locals drop in for a coffee, and judging by the rapport on display, we would also agree.