Melbourne’s coffee scene has undergone a slew of changes in the last decade—an increase in boutique roasters, quality cafes, a celebration of filter brewing methods and a move away from the traditional European-driven industry that once was. At the beginning of this progression were a number of key players, like Mark Dundon who founded St. Ali and subsequently Seven Seeds with Bridget Amor, Andrew Kelly of Auction Rooms, and, of course, Nolan Hirte with Proud Mary. It’s the latter of which that's our focus today, with Proud Mary relocating its roastery from the western suburb of Footscray to the inner-city mecca of Collingwood, with the new space set to open next week. Hirte was kind enough to give us an inside look at the development of their new cafe, giving us the chance to peak our heads in multiple times this month to see the buildout of the new facility progress.
Proud Mary has long been the Willy Wonka wonderland of Melbourne’s specialty coffee scene since it opened late 2009—and rightfully so. Back when there were very few cafes brewing filter coffee, Hirte set out to offer pretty much every brew method imaginable over his well-kitted-out brew bar, as well as offering numerous espresso options (we’re talking 5+) each day through their custom-built, six-group Synesso espresso machine.
By way of the numerous brew methods, all sorts of rare coffees are pulled, such as intense, fruity, naturally processed coffees from Panama, all the way to super bright and sweet washed-process Costa Ricans. All these decadent coffee offerings are served alongside one of the most solid daytime food menus that can be found in this fair town (making it a darling of the brunch crowd) and the whole experience is rounded out with classic vinyl LPs being played over the cafe sound system.
Such a busy café operation has necessitated expansion, and as such, from their old 200-square-meter roasting space that housed their Probat UG15 roaster, green storage, quality control, and wholesale operations, they’ve moved into a spacious two-level warehouse with a whopping 1,100 meter square footage. With all this extra space, Hirte and the Proud Mary team have ambitious plans: a roastery, green storage, training space, offices, industrial kitchen, black coffee bar, retail space, and a workshop.
When I spoke to Hirte about why he chose to undertake such a huge project, he reminisced on Proud Mary’s beginnings: “I can remember early on at Prouds, my favourite thing working the brew bar was, honestly, just talking to random people who had no idea about coffee, saying try this, try that, and just seeing their minds blown.”
Since those days, the coffee industry in Melbourne has grown in leaps and bounds, and with this, Nolan has found a new challenge in educating customers—as he explained, “It’s harder to blow people’s minds these days, as everyone has kind of done the rounds and knows what’s up, but it’s still confusing for people…there’s still a big gap between the five or six specialty guys that really do it in Melbourne as opposed to the other hundred that appear to.”
Located in the center of the ground level is a large humidity-controlled green storage area, beautifully clad in Tasmanian oak. In the roastery on the right-hand side of the space, they’ll be using their current UG15 roaster, alongside a newly refurbished Probat UG22 roaster, which Nolan told me “has pretty much been hot-rodded” with new technology and independent motors for each element.
On the other side of the space, there will be a beautiful coffee bar, essentially the ‘cellar door’ for the roastery—here they’ll be serving black coffee only through filter and espresso, as well as selling retail coffee and baked goods to the public. In this space, Nolan hopes to challenge people and educate them further about coffee; with only twelve seats, customers will be taken through the process of ordering and having their coffee brewed right in front of them from start to finish by the one barista.
Upstairs, what was formerly a set of sterile cubicles will now be home to a light-filled open-plan set-up, housing a carpeted office area (for administration and wholesale operations), two training areas (one for espresso, one for filter brewing), and also what will eventually be an industrial kitchen, where all sorts of baked treats and food prep will take place.
With the new space, Hirte hopes to push Melbourne’s coffee industry further forward by providing education and a challenging coffee service. He also hopes to bring the sprawling coffee community together a little bit more at the root of the industry. Ultimately, Hirte says, “I think we’re in the position where we should be able to genuinely have a positive impact—right back to where the coffee comes from.”