Welcome to the final instalment in our History of Black Sheep series! If you missed any of the first three — The First Coffee Cart in Brisbane, Becoming Black Sheep and The Floods— take a read and then come back here to see what happened next.
By mid-2012, it was time for Black Sheep to grow again.
Even though they were going through more than 40kg of coffee every weekend — plus the wholesale customers who’d buy 20kg or 30kg at a time (including Gordon Ramsay’s Melbourne restaurant Maze) — Mark was still roasting on the tiny, 3kg roaster. They needed a bigger roaster. And if they had a bigger roaster, they’d need a bigger space.
Mark had always dreamed of having a little cafe, so they set about hunting for locations that could be used as a dual space, a show room where they could roast coffee and also run a cafe.
At the end of 2012 they signed the lease on 109 Norman St Woolloongabba. Mark and Katie loved the area and the people. “It’s inner-city but it’s a really lovely mix of light industrial and residential,” says Katie. “I think the people in this area share the same values and ethics as well.
“And there’s a dog park just over the back,” she smiles. “Who doesn’t love a dog park?”
Though they loved the area, the building itself left a little to be desired. It was originally a mechanics and the tenant before Mark and Katie was a carpenter who was storing his tools on the site.
There was white paint peeling off the exterior, terracotta tiles on the ground, and enormous bar grills all the way up the windows. The walls were exposed besser brick, some painted bright orange. And where the table and counter are now, there was an office complete with plasterboard ceiling and 70s glass sliding door.
But Katie had a vision. “At the end of the day, there was no disguising that this is a late 60s early 70s besser brick shed,” she says. “So we wanted something that was industrial but somewhat contemporary, that was going to move with us. But that was also going to give praise to the building and not try and hide it.”
The terracotta tiles were lifted up and then Mark spent weeks polishing the floor. They pulled down the plasterboard ceiling and Katie’s father installed steel beams so they could knock the office walls down and keep the mezzanine level. And something definitely had to be done about the bathroom.
“The toilet here was revolting,” Katie shudders. She used to come in, work, and then go home to use the bathroom. “You can imagine an old mechanic’s workshop toilet. So I said to Mark that it has to be the first thing that we do. And it was. So this place was a demolition site and the loo was divine!” (It’s since been named the ‘Best Loo in Brisbane’ by a local blogger.)
In September 2013, their 15kg custom Giesen roaster arrived from Holland. It was incredibly exciting. After waiting such a long time, they videoed the whole occasion. But things didn’t exactly go as planned. “When we opened it up, it was a parallelogram,” Katie recalls. “The roaster was a skewered mess.”
Somewhere along the way, the roaster had fallen and needed a complete rebuild. Thankfully, it was fully insured but as Katie was now heavily pregnant with their first child, it became a game of who was coming first, the roaster or the baby. The baby won.
The roaster arrived in March 2014 and in November, they opened their doors. Kinda.
“By this stage, everyone in the street knew we were coffee roasters and were roasting for our market, but we were unable to make cups,” says Katie. “They were all begging and pleading, ‘can you please put the espresso machine in!’ So we had the espresso bar built, put a machine on it and it was open for take away coffee and that was it.”
With limited trading hours, they’d close at 1pm to keep renovating. “We’d clean up, open up again in the morning, serve cups of coffee and then continue building,” says Katie, adding they’d use the weekends to build while the rest of the staff were at the Rocklea market site.
They kept “slogging away” and in April 2015, started weekend trading. Weekday hours were extended to 6:30pm - 2:30pm and the response has been, “wonderful. I think it’s exceeded our expectations,” says Katie. “The local community are so supportive and have embraced us.”
Doors open at 6:30am and staff are greeted by early morning walkers and their pups. Weekdays see corporate people pop in on their way to the office, and local businesses make up the bulk of the trade. But on weekends the Roastery becomes a destination place. “There’s lots of parking on the street on the weekend, so people can drive, they ride their bikes. And of course they walk their dogs,” says Katie.
At the end of the day, after maybe more than their share of ups and downs, Katie is thoughtful. “We still have each other and we have a rocking business. We have the most dedicated, incredible bunch of staff that are really family."
“[The Roastery is] a pretty special place. Mark and I don’t get to do many floor shifts here. I do all behind the scenes: payroll, bookkeeping side of the business, rosters. Mark’s stuck out the back roasting and sometimes it’s just so enjoyable to come in, sit and watch the people that come to our space,” she says. “Mark hand-built this table and people sit at it and that’s pretty cool.”