Melbourne is renowned for its buzz and energy as a city, which is unsurprising considering that it's arguably our nation's most caffeinated capital. We have laneway cafes, hole-in-the-wall and pop-up cafes, not to mention coffee institutions that were around long before single origin and cold-drip methods were ever heard of.
One of the latest coffee trends to strike Melbourne is the train station cafe – coffee spots that perch either on, or directly beside, metropolitan train platforms. We spoke to the owners of a few of these cafes about their choice of location, whether or not it has been a success and the challenges involved in running a station-side cafe.
Rebekah Malherbe, owner of Sebastian's Food & Wine, had a strong concept in mind for the location of her cafe.
“I was always looking for a space that was a little bit different,” she says of Sebastian's, which is nestled right beside Hampton Station. The fact that it was at a train station was secondary, but Malherbe has never regretted her choice.
“The train line has a fantastic energy. There's always something happening – it's never stagnant. Plus, kids just go nuts for the trains! They watch them from the courtyard…they just love it.”
Proximity to the station was also an unintentional benefit for John Kanellakos, owner of Fifteen Pounds. In seeking a location for the cafe, his foremost criterion was to find somewhere close to home. When his father pointed out a vacant shop next to the Fairfield platform, Kanellakos snapped it up immediately, and hasn't looked back.
“Getting this spot was the best decision I've made,” says Kanellakos, who has been trading for nine months now and hasn’t looked back.
Intuitively it makes sense: train stations guarantee a steady stream of customers, many of whom are desperate for a liquid perk before work, or just to make it through the arduous commute. Furthermore, passengers waiting for their train provide a captive audience – perfectly positioned for the enjoyment of a coffee or all-day breakfast to pass the time.
For most of the cafe owners we spoke to, their choice of location had nothing to do with proximity to commuting foot traffic, although it is indeed a strong drawcard. But James Laskie of 30 Mill by Tooronga station in Malvern made a conscious decision to open a station-side business. Aware of the high levels of competition inherent in Melbourne's bursting cafe scene, Laskie wanted something off the beaten path without compromising on visibility.
“I couldn't think of anything worse than being just another cafe on the main strip,” he explains. “Where we are now, we get a lot of people coming in off the inbound train-line, but also heaps of residential customers.
“If I ever opened up another cafe, it would have to be next to public transport.”
Speed and Quality
Dan Zalcberg is clearly onto a good thing. He now owns three cafes by stations: School of Seven Bells at Windsor, Artful Dodger by Elsternwick and Whyte's next to Glen Huntly. He's made a conscious decision to take advantage of the train line theme, which features heavily in the branding of Artful Dodger Trading Company, his overarching coffee roasting business. However, he admits that the station-side location brings with it some unique challenges that aren't necessarily shared by more conventional cafes.
“The difference is the speed you need to get coffee out,” he explains. “People have a train to catch, so you've got this four-minute window to serve them in. Our baristas need to be very time-conscious.”
Getting the timing wrong could be disastrous. “We're in a position where we could really make or break a person's day!” adds Zalcberg.
But speed is only part of the equation. For cafes like School of Seven Bells, timely service mustn't come at the cost of quality, so staff are given specific training to manage the hectic public transport-driven environment. Zalcberg believes effective training is key to the long-term success of the business – and to keep his customers coming back.
A Public Good
In 2010, Metro Trains began a redevelopment of Caulfield Station as the pilot location for their ‘Bringing Stations to Life campaign, an initiative designed to revitalise train station platforms and turn them into 'dining hubs'. As part of the plan, commuters would have access to good quality, artisan food and coffee along their journey.
The idea behind the campaign was to increase the presence of friendly local businesses and foot traffic, so that commuters would feel safer on the platform, particularly early in the morning or late at night.
Iain Munroe knows exactly what it's like to establish a business in a formerly undesirable area. To take pressure off his thriving Yarraville cafe Cornershop, he opened Wee Jeanie opposite Yarraville Station. This came at a time when businesses in the area were sparse and people were often frightened to be alone on the train platform at night.
“At first, we were very much on the periphery. But since Wee Jeanie opened, more businesses have opened up around us. It's getting better now…people feel much safer”.
The hospitality industry is renowned for being one of the most challenging there is, and in Melbourne's saturated cafe sector competition is particularly strong. But despite the fact that a large number of start-up cafe businesses fail within their first year of operation, places like Wee Jeanie, Seven Bells, 30 Mill, Fifteen Pounds and Sebastian's have obviously discovered the track to success.
Need a decent coffee to deal with the peak hour crush? These station-side cafes have got the quick fix you need to get you on your way.
30 Mill, Tooronga
School of Seven Bells, Windsor
Sebastian's Food & Wine, Hampton
Coin Laundry, Armadale
Wee Jeanie, Yarraville
Fifteen Pounds, Fairfield
Not Telling, Hawthorn
Miss Marie, Rosanna
Gauge Espresso, Ormond
Roller Door Cafe, North Melbourne
Artful Dodger, Elsternwick
Wall Two 80, Balaclava
Hawk and Hunter Small Batch, Glen Eira
Moth to a Flame, East Richmond
Obscura Cafe, Kensington