Nearly 10 years after signing the lease on his North Melbourne cafe, owner Andrew Kelly has sold Auction Rooms to St. ALi.

The new owners include Salvatore Malatesta (who owns St. ALi, Clement, Happy Place and Sensory Lab), and partners Andy Todd, Jimmy Yeoman, Eddie Zapan and Lachlan Ward.

Kelly, who’s currently in Colombia visiting coffee farms, says while the past decade has “been so much work and energy and love”, he felt it time to focus on his young family and coffee-roasting business, Small Batch (which requires frequent sourcing trips).

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Malatesta says the idea to buy an existing cafe, instead of opening a new one, came from ongoing discussions with his partners about St. ALi’s next steps.

“They said, ‘Do we open more venues?’ And I said, ‘Does Melbourne need more venues, more cafes, really?” Malatesta recalls.

“There was a consensus among everyone that opening a new cafe every 30 seconds is, a) not interesting, and b) slightly wasteful. The reasoning is: we have a lot of good ones.”

The concept is what Malatesta calls “iconic preservation” – “Why would we open another venue when there’s a beautiful venue like Auction Rooms?”

Malatesta says he’s long been “fond” of Auction Rooms, which he feels is a “natural sister cafe” to St. ALi. The two cafes opened at similar times (Auction Rooms in 2008, St. ALi in 2005), were both part of leading the specialty-coffee wave in Melbourne, and both spaces share an aesthetic Malatesta describes as “dumpster chic” (from a time when “people would open cafes on a shoestring”).

Malatesta’s new partners started as employees who worked within the St. ALi Family for years.

“The guys start off when they’re 22, 23 but now they’re 33 and they have a child and a mortgage and they need to earn more than you earn with the sort of ceilings that are set in hospo. The next step is we give them ownership.”

Kelly will continue supplying Small Batch coffee for now, and Malatesta says there are no immediate plans to change the menu.