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The art of creating a 'neighbour-led' cafe

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Festivals Adelaide CEO Christie Anthoney has ventured into the theatre of hospitality with a new cafe in Alberton which was created through neighbourhood goodwill and promises to deliver the local community more than food and coffee.

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Anthoney and her partner Joost den Hartog have lived on Alberton’s Sussex Street for 10 years. They love the area but, like many of their neighbours, had lamented the lack of a nearby coffee shop.

The potential solution lay in an under-utilised space at the front of their home – a 100-year-old building next to the train station which had been used as a shop more than 20 years ago and was once part of a strip of stores on land that is now residential.

“We decided to explore what a cafe would look like,” Anthoney tells InDaily. “So we found a team of neighbours who were prepared to turn it into something unique…

“The core reason was to do something for the neighbourhood and get to know the neighbours better … to have a neutral spot where we could all have coffee together.”

Last weekend, 12 months after they started planning it, The Pear cafe was officially opened by SA Premier – and Alberton resident – Jay Weatherill, and David Panter, chief executive of aged-care provider ECH, which is a sponsor and partner in the project.

Anthoney describes it as a “unique experiment” blending a community centre, activity groups and a café.

She says the decor reflects a touch of 1920s style, with vintage lighting, original Baltic pine floorboards in the dining space, recycled boards used to create the counter and a bench, an exposed red-brick wall, and “a cut-out of a woman in a bathing suit diving into the coffee – she’s called Pearl”.

“We’ve tried to let the building speak for itself because it has big bay windows and red front doors and huge soaring windows right to the roof … we’ve tried to make it look homey and familiar.”

The Pear is open for breakfast and lunch, with signature items including empanadas from Nelson Manonella’s Ministry of Empanadas, and toasted sandwiches made using wood-oven sourdough bread from Soiboii bakery in Port Adelaide and served with Satarash (a tomato and capsicum-based sauce).

The Satarash is made by a local Croatian woman who is employed as a cook in the cafe and makes a range of Mediterranean-style dishes.

Anthoney says The Pear will also operate a baker-in-residence program that will draw on local baking talent and is likely to reflect the ethnic diversity of the area – one of the first bakers is a neighbour who makes sour-cream strawberry or rhubarb Estonian cake. In addition, it is serving Nathan Bakes’ vegan sweets, such as mud cake, and lemonade and lavender or rose macaroons.

For the all-important coffee, the cafe is using beans from Adelaide small-batch roaster Monastery: “We have a dark roast blend that they have made for us – it’s quite rich in its roast, and then we have single-origin drip filter brew … for coffee connoisseurs, that’s really interesting.”

Brewed by Belinda, a boutique tea company started by Alberton local Belinda Hellyer, whose background is in the arts, is supplying The Pear’s tea range and will also run tea-blending workshops.

The workshops are part of a planned program of regular free community activities which Anthoney says will begin at the cafe in mid-February and is also likely to include a book club, gardening discussions, art classes, a grandparents’ meet-up, workshops and conversations.

“It’s not dissimilar to the festival environment in terms of finding interesting people locally who are doing things you can harness,” she says.

The Peal has a ‘mug wall’ where regulars can leave their coffee mugs.

Early on in the project she connected with David Panter of ECH, which has two clusters of units in Alberton for elderly clients who live independently.

Panter believes the cafe will help combat the social isolation felt by some older people: “When people have a welcoming meeting location in their neighbourhood, they are more likely to connect with each other, feel part of their community and live more fulfilling lives.”

Late last year, The Pear received a $32,500 grant through the State Government’s Fund My Neighbourhood program. Port Adelaide Football Club has also come on board as a sponsor; the cafe’s name, inspired by the #carnthepear social media phenomenon, is a nod to the fact it is located in the club’s heartland.

For Anthoney – whose long career in the arts has included roles with Adelaide Fringe, WOMADelaide, Edinburgh Fringe, Glastonbury Festival and Adelaide College of the Arts – the cafe is a very different kind of venture, but one she says has been made possible with the support of a team including enthusiastic neighbours.

“It’s a lot of fun.

“It’s also a massive learning curve and I take my hat off to people running a small business, but from the outset we have said we want to work with a team that also owns it.”

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