On a bright corner in Annandale sits Cornersmith, a cafe powered by sustainability and heart from wife-and-husband team Alex Elliott-Howery and James Grant. The park-side vegetarian joint has a loyal following: lines of pre-9am locals, parents and kids fuelling up for play, leisurely catch-ups over snacky Scandi breakfast plates and poached egg rolls. But it was announced today that Cornersmith, in all its house-made glory, is closing at the end of this month.

“The Covid years took the wind out of our sails and now the reality is that the hospitality industry, like our food system, is a bit broken,” the team said in a website update. “It seems impossible to do the right thing environmentally, keep customers happy and stay independent and afloat financially.”

Operating ethically is Cornersmith’s MO: Elliott-Howery preserves food scraps and excess produce for a house range of condiments; the menu features mostly local small-scale producers; and coffee is traded for customers’ home-grown veggies. “We started Cornersmith with the aim to feed Inner Westies delicious food and coffee,” the couple says. “To build a food community and get people thinking about what they eat and their place in our complex food system.”

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While the couple live their no-waste ethos – evidenced in their 12 years of operation, regular “FOGO fridge check” social series, workshops and cooking school classes – they cite a tough hospitality market and running out of steam for the shock closure. “It took on a life of its own and like lots of small businesses it has often felt like it was in control of us rather than the other way around … We tried bloody hard and while our passion and purpose hasn’t changed, our bodies, brains and bank balances are a bit exhausted.”

Cornersmith first opened in Marrickville in 2012, in the site now housing The Corner Deli by Lox in a Box. A picklery down the road followed, a small grocer and open kitchen aimed at getting Sydneysiders to ditch the supermarket and really lean into seasonal eating. The Marrickville digs closed in 2019, with the couple focusing on the Annandale location, posting on Instagram that “running a small business and raising a family is hard work and we are looking forward to a little less stress next year”.

While Cornersmith’s farewell is a big blow for the inner west cafe scene, we haven’t seen the last of the couple. They’re working on a new home for their ferments and pickles, and Elliott-Howery will be continuing to host cooking classes at The Foodlab Kitchen and “anywhere else she is invited”. Plus, “an awesome new cafe” is coming to the Annandale corner spot.

“Cornersmith isn’t over! We’re just ready for the next chapter in our business and life.”

Cornersmith Annandale’s last day of trade will be Thursday February 29.