Originally published on Broadsheet Melbourne (10 October 2016)
It’s been a pub, a brothel and an art gallery. But the latest transformation of Cromwell Manor in Collingwood may be its most revolutionary yet.
The 150-year-old heritage site has now reopened its doors as an 80-seat cafe, artisan bakery and state-of-the-art coffee roastery run by STREAT, a social enterprise tackling youth homelessness by training and supporting disadvantaged young people.
It boasts a seasonal menu designed by executive chef Di Kerry (Mamo, Blake’s, Panama Dining) and café boss Tarn Fisher (Auction Rooms), along with a world class bakery funded by Deyrick Upton of Breadsolutions. Founder and CEO Rebecca Scott says STREAT has come a long way from coffee carts in Fed Square.
In 2013, philanthropist Geoff Harris leased the $2.5 million Cromwell site to STREAT for $5 a year for the next half a century.
“Every day I walk in here and pinch myself,” Scott says. “Just to see the phenomenal diversity of people walking in the door as customers …As much as we exist to stop youth homelessness and disadvantage, the engine of our whole enterprise is good food and coffee.”
At STREAT Cromwell, Scott has brought together some of Melbourne’s top chefs, bakers, designers and architects to help disprove the perception that “doing good means trading off quality”.
All coffee is roasted on site, with 300 kilos produced each week, and the aromas of freshly baked bread and croissants drift across the courtyard long into the morning. A $3.5 million dollar facelift and redesign by Six Degrees has also brought new life to a café space that once served as a brothel’s “dark, dingy dungeon”.
“We really wanted to create a site that gave you a different experience than what you’re used to in the middle of the city,” Scott says. “…The whole site opens its arms to the outside.”
Of course, there’s plenty of history left behind too. The original brick walls still stand, stained with soot from the chimneys,and some of the more colourful characters from Cromwell’s past have now been immortalised on the menu. Popular drinks include ‘Immoral Irene’s Gin Screwdriver’, so named for a local woman who made headlines at Cromwell Manor in 1915 for “carrying on with a sailor”.
But, it is the manor’s latest inhabitants that are perhaps the most extraordinary. Since it started in 2010, STEAT has trained more than 520 disadvantaged youth in hospitality across five café sites in Melbourne. Thanks to Cromwell’s additional training academy, the enterprise will now be able to help 365 young people each year.
Executive chef Di Kerry says it’s “heart-warming” to watch trainees serving their first meals to customers and helping behind the counter.
“Of course, that’s the icing on the cake; first of all, we aim to be a really good café in Collingwood.”