For more than 50 years Grinders Coffee House has been an iconic part of Lygon Street’s heritage, first established in 1962.
Founder Giancarlo Giusti knows the street like the back of his hand. Dubbed ‘the forefather of Melbourne’s coffee culture’, Giancarlo would proudly enjoy an espresso at the original store while absorbing the atmosphere of Ferrari drive-bys and broken dialects that make up Melbourne’s iconic ‘little Italy’.
To bring the historic site into the modern era, the tired building has undergone an intensive renovation program to bring it back to its original glory.
“We have created a coffee experience in the venue that started Grinders Coffee’s espresso movement in Melbourne,” Grinders Coffee’s Faye Heininger says. “The refurbishment occurred for two reasons. First, we wanted to roast coffee again from the original site, so we recommissioned our old red 30-kilogram roaster named Old Red, which has been sitting idle for five years, and we wanted to breathe new life back into Lygon Street.”
To do that, Grinders Coffee has developed impressive new features that make the store not just a coffee destination, but an innovation hub.
A single origin program allows customers to sample and take home bespoke specialty coffees roasted on site – just as Giancarlo once did more than 50 years ago.
Six silos visible from the ceiling are another integral part to the new fit-out. They hold freshly roasted single origin beans, which are rotated frequently, meaning visitors will always be able to come in and try something new.
“Customers can come in and make their own blend using any of the single origins available, purchase any of these single origin coffees, or take home a rotational single origin such as our beautiful Ethiopian Dumerso, which has this beautiful strawberry flavour,” Faye says.
Combining Ethiopian, Colombian, and Indonesian beans is the Grinders Street Blend, which Faye describes as “simply beautiful”.
“It’s honestly one of the best house blends we’ve done. It demonstrates that if you can put all these beautiful single origins together in the right way, you’ll get a fantastic blend,” she says.
It’s not just the variety of coffees that’s impressive, but the brewing equipment too. A Rancilio Classe 11 demands attention on the espresso bar, Ratio brewers are ready to produce filter coffee, as well as V60 and cold drip devices.
Store Manager Oliver Berry and roaster Achilleas Giotopolous make a dynamite duo, committed to presenting different coffee techniques, experimenting with different milks, and educating customers about coffee and the Grinders legacy.
Aesthetically, the espresso bar is almost unrecognisable to anyone who visited in the 1960s. For two months, boarding sheets covered the front shop facade giving locals and passersby a sense that something big was brewing in the original Grinders Coffee site, and it was. The new-look fit-out is thanks to the work of Best. Design to Life designers Jacob Burke and Tom Debenham, who quite literally had to demolish, build, and renew the space within two months.
“Essentially, the brief was to reinvigorate the Lygon Street location so that the brand was seen and loved once again. And most notably, being in Melbourne, a fundamental part of the brief was to actually be able to serve coffee,” Director of Projects Jacob says.
He says the challenge in paying respect to the original site was to understand its historical values and reflect these in a relevant way. First came restoring the front facade to its former glory, then adding transparent large sweeping doors in lieu of the previous solid single door.
Jacob and Tom used rich and warm materials to evoke a sense of comfortability, off-white tiles to create a neutral base, bespoke joinery for depth and diversity, and copper elements to represent Grinders’ industrial past, as seen in the six coffee silos. Jacob says the leather and timber veneer, together with the concrete-finish bench tops and black steel are all designed to complement Grinders’ refreshed brand.
“The material palette is a symphony of parts that culminate in a rich, immersive, and accessible designed experience that respects the true essence of coffee, and indeed, the Grinders brand,” Jacob says.
Also important was finding a way for the customer to be involved in the live roasting process that occurs on-site. This involved removing a solid wall that once concealed the roaster, and adding glass windows for customers to look through.
“The experience now breaks down the industrialised process that is coffee roasting, and involves the customer through sight, sound, and taste,” Jacob says.
Grinders Coffee has been careful not to throw their history away, with nods to its heritage evident in the store’s door handles and key pieces of original signage. The store’s famous shop front – which dates back to 1962 – has been carefully dismantled and relocated to the Grinders Roastery in Fairfield, Victoria where it will continue to tell the unique story behind the brand’s heritage.
The result speaks for itself. This isn’t just a rebrand of Grinders Coffee, it’s the start of a special new future with heritage at its core.
“The Lygon Street store design has magically transformed the perception and credibility of the Grinders brand to Carlton locals, national Grinders team members, and customers,” Jacob says.
When Giancarlo first saw the new-look site, Faye says his smile said it all.
“He pointed to the outdoor seating and said: ‘That’s my spot.’ Now he regularly comes to the store and enjoys an espresso like he once did, every day, more than 50 years ago.”