A few weeks ago we launched The Keys, a new project we're proud to present with our partners Bank of Melbourne. In keeping with our city’s love affair with excellent coffee, we're giving an existing cafe operator the chance to take the next step and open a brand new venue.

Through a series of videos published on Broadsheet, The Keys, under the guidance of four key industry mentors – Kate Bartholomew (Coda, Tonka), Nathan Toleman (Three Bags Full, Two Birds One Stone, Top Paddock), Chris Lucas (Chin Chin, Baby) and Bank of Melbourne local business manager, Vanessa Hastie – will follow the journey of the new cafe through its first six months of operation, the set up, the excitement of a new cafe and challenges they face with another venue. It's a huge opportunity for the cafe owners, and an exciting new way for us to get behind Melbourne's world-class cafe industry.

About six weeks ago we put the word out to you, our readers, to nominate your favourite cafe, or even your own, and had a pretty amazing response. We received thousands of nominations, and have narrowed it down to these top three finalists:

Clement/Tom Thumb
After stints at St Ali and Proud Mary, coffee veteran Kris Wood stepped out on his own with Clement at South Melbourne Market and later joined forces with Andrew Gale in the CBD espresso bar Tom Thumb. Unlike his current businesses, Wood wants to create a much larger venue focusing on high quality espresso, food and wine. This new operation will include an onsite coffee roaster similar to Clement. Clint Fox from Banter Winebar in North Melbourne will be a partner of the business.

After working in various specialty coffee houses in Melbourne, including Proud Mary for many years, John Vroom opened Ora with his girlfriend and partner Stephanie Manolas, in Kew. Vroom works behind the coffee machines, brewing serious coffee (pour over, cold drip and filter), to compliment their adventurous cafe dishes. With a slick suburban operation under their belt, Vroom and Manolas are hoping to open their second joint venture, which operates as a roasting house and cafe producing their own brand of coffee beans.

Auction Rooms
A converted warehouse on North Melbourne’s main drag, Auction Rooms is fairly innocuous from the outside. Offering dinner three nights a week, a reasonably priced and adventurous brunch menu and great coffee from specialty blends roasted on site, Auction Rooms is a shining light amongst the North Melbourne cafe scene. Owner Andrew Kelly hopes to bring something unique to Melbourne, with the idea of opening a pop-up filter coffee and Smorrebrod (a traditional Swedish open sandwich) cafe in Melbourne’s CBD.

Watch the video as we chat to the finalists to find out what they have planned for their next venue, and to the mentors about the key features that sold them in on the top three candidates as they begin to narrow things down.

From hereon in, our mentors will decide on the final winner of The Keys. Stayed tuned, as we’ll be announcing the winner on Monday 21 October.