A restaurant in Hong Kong sparked the idea for Tashi Dorjee and Rob Walker’s unique venue TwoSpace. By day the place was a kopi tiam, a cafe “aunties and uncles went to for their morning coffee and noodles”. But at 5pm it transformed. New staff would arrive and it would become a pumping pizza restaurant, popular with young people. One space, two functions. Two demographics.
“We wanted to apply that same sharing economy concept and underutilisation of space with the need for affordable and flexible working spaces,” says Dorjee.
They came up with TwoSpace. It works like this: the pair find restaurants closed during the day and set them up as an office, with wi-fi and plenty of power outlets. Members have access to all participating venues. The restaurants earn a percentage of every membership fee and often workers turned dinner diners when the restaurant opens for service.
Unusually, none of the participating venues TwoSpace use are in the CBD – most cafes there stay open all day. That’s why Dorjee and Walker chose restaurants in the suburbs, and filled a gap in the market. “The majority of the people that signed up live within a few hundred metres from that venue,” says Dorjee.
TwoSpace has also helped to rejuvenate certain areas. “Our first couple of venues, Casoni in Darlinghurst and the Kings Cross Hotel are in the areas suffering from the lockout laws,” says Dorjee. “A lot of venues there were closing down.”
At the Kings Cross Hotel, TwoSpace workers now take over the rooftop space on level five that’s otherwise closed during the day. They can also order lunch from the kitchen downstairs. The practice also helps draw attention to other interesting aspects of the space. “Most people don’t know the Kings Cross Hotel has a theatre,” says Dorjee. “So we’re educating a new group of people who can then tell their friends and come back for drink.”
The payoff for TwoSpace is it’s bringing entrepreneurs, start-ups and freelancers who would otherwise be working at home alone or in a café, together and creating a community. It also connects them with businesses in the area that aren’t big enough to have their own office space and encourages them to try new places in the neighbourhood.
“We might offer them a discounted membership to a local gym,” says Dorjee. “And, for example, we send Darlinghurst workers to Greenhouse Coffee around the corner.” The restaurant owners also benefit. For example, they might be using the space to do admin during the day and meet someone who does marketing or builds websites they can employ.
“You need to surround yourself with like-minded individuals,” says Dorjee. “It helps to know there are other people in the same boat, working just as hard. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.”
TwoSpace are in the early stages of expanding. Twenty more restaurants converted into working spaces are planned for the new year across Sydney and Melbourne. Dorjee feels an evolution is afoot, with co-working eventually leading to co-living. She says hotels will set up spaces where people can live and work, with perks like shared gardens or even a home cinema. “It will be anything from rooms with bunk beds as crash pads, to more private, expensive rooms.”
Dorjee and Walker are also keen to let restaurants give it a go without committing to becoming an official venue. For now, they’re content building a community.