In a town like Melbourne, where food and drink are the lifeblood of people’s professional and recreational day-to-day, places like the Queen Victoria Market are the beating heart of the city. It’s where families come to get their weekly groceries (and maybe some fancy delicatessen goods), it’s where chefs come to pick up seasonal vegetables and meat, and it’s where tourists flock to try the delicious dips and famed boreks (or to gather some delightfully kitschy Australiana souvenirs). It’s a delightful microcosm of all that Melbourne has to offer.
This diverse appeal, and the central location of the market, led founders Fleur Studd and Jason Scheltus to open an outpost of Market Lane Coffee at Queen Victoria Market over seven years ago on Therry Street, which runs alongside the market. (Disclosure: this writer worked for Market Lane between 2011–2014). In the years since, they’ve opened locations in Carlton, in the CBD, at South Melbourne market, and a satellite cafe within the deli area of Queen Vic Market. While their original Therry Street store absolutely flourished over the years, the building that housed the cafe was sold to the City of Melbourne four years ago, which meant they’d need to leave the space—prompting them to search for an alternative, more permanent location at the market to fill the gap. With this, they happily secured a new space on the corner of Victoria and Queen, in a beautiful terraced storefront—opening just in time for their Therry Street site to close its doors.
The design for the space was undertaken by Sarah Trotter of Hearth Studio, who’s designed the interiors of the last five Market Lane Coffee shops, while the build-out was done by Orio of Arteveneta, who’s also been behind the carpentry for nearly all the Market Lane venues over the years. The shop has one main bar where all the coffee brewing is undertaken, which creates a line and flow between the two entryways to the space—light wood frames the space through cabinetry, benches, and shelving, while brass handles, rich maroon tiles, and a patterned navy blue curtain punctuate the aesthetic and draw the eye.
The building itself is protected by a Heritage Overlay, which means that any new work needed to be undertaken with respect to historic aesthetic elements. As Trotter explained, “We aim to work in a way that is directly responsive to site and setting—and as such the historical and cultural context of the spaces within which Market Lane shops are located becomes very important to the way we design… Whilst our strategy revolved around the idea of minimal intervention, we were able to recognize and work with several opportunities the traditional Victorian shop front layout provided.”
Chatting to Scheltus about what they hope to achieve in the new space, he said, “One of the big goals is to create a space where our customers can sit and interact with our staff while they’re brewing coffee. I think bartenders are really lucky to be able to have many of their customers sitting comfortably in front of them as they work, giving them a great opportunity to create rapport, relationships, and a familiarity with their customers.”
While the team considered installing an under-the-counter espresso set-up to break down barriers, they eventually came to the conclusion that even the most subtle equipment can’t create an inviting and intimate environment for customers—instead, they set up dedicated bar seating that highlights the pour-over coffee station, allowing for extended interaction and engagement while staff are brewing filter coffee.
The offering here is relatively minimal—espresso coffee or filter coffee, along with a small selection of sweets from North Melbourne-based bakery Beatrix, and a retail offering with an emphasis on brewing at home.
As any enterprise matures over time, there’s the question of sustainability—not only in relation to finance and whether the business is viable, but also whether the company is growing in a way that promotes a healthy culture for the people that work in that business. It’s an evolution that is often key to a company’s success, and one that Market Lane has very much been paying attention to.
“From the outside it probably seems like the biggest change to the company has been the number of stores we have opened, but really the biggest change has been the structures around staff, their development, progression, and training.” Scheltus explained, “We made a conscious decision in 2013 to be the best place for coffee-focused hospitality staff to work—meaning since then we consider the engagement, well-being, progression, and training of staff.”
It’s this openness to evolution that has contributed to Market Lane Coffee’s growth from their original roastery and cafe in Prahran Market to a company that has six venues across Melbourne city. In a city like Melbourne that appears to have an insatiable thirst for high-quality coffee, Market Lane’s oft-appropriated tagline “We love to make coffee for the city that loves to drink it” definitely makes you feel like there’s no need for them to slow down any time soon.
Eileen P. Kenny is a coffee professional, winemaker, and Sprudge Media Network contributor based in Melbourne. Read more Eileen P. Kenny on Sprudge.
With photos courtesy of Armelle Habib for Market Lane Coffee.