Tim Manning and his wife Myfanwy have been running Red Brick Espresso in suburban Curtin for five years. They are proud of what they have built in that time and the way Red Brick is now a central part of life in Curtin and Canberra’s south, turning what was once an unused office on the quiet side of a local shopping precinct into a thriving hub for coffee connoisseurs as well as hungry locals.
Before they moved in, the current café was an empty medical office. The name of the café came from the old grimy red bricks that lined the inside of the office, which Tim and Myfanwy spent too many nights and weekends scrubbing clean while they renovated their new business.
Red Brick now employs 25 locals, boosts the local economy and shopping precinct and draws in customers from as far away as Gungahlin, some of whom joke about how they try and find an excuse each week to detour through Curtin and visit their favourite café for a fix of its coffee, food and hospitality. Many customers also drive from nearby Deakin where they work, to enjoy breakfast, coffee and lunch in Canberra suburbia.
Tim grew up in Canberra suburb of Griffith, attending Red Hill Primary School and loves working amongst the people he grew up with and watching Canberra become a more sophisticated city. The couple first fell in love with coffee and thought about Red Brick while they were running their first café, Beppies, at the Belconnen Markets. At that time the Canberra coffee scene was still evolving. ONA at Fyshwick was the only other café roasting and selling beans and Canberra baristas hadn’t yet won any international awards.
Tim and Myf realised there was an opportunity to build a business around specialty coffee and hatched a plan to roast and sell coffee in suburban Canberra. They spent a good year looking for a place with potential before settling on a classic “fixer-upper” in Curtin.
If you’re unfamiliar with Red Brick you might have trouble finding it. There is no external signage. This is deliberate. Tim and Myf’s philosophy from the start has been that they should invest their capital and time in the best quality product, equipment, and coffee, and let word of mouth do the rest. And it has worked.
That successful philosophy continues to pay dividends to this day. They source quality ingredients direct from the best sources available. The stash of coffee in their aromatic roasting room includes bags from Colombia and Bolivia. All their milk comes from a single source – a Dubbo dairy farm with a similar community-minded philosophy. Although the milk is slightly more expensive than many commercially available milks, the award-winning Little Big Dairy supports Red Brick’s Fair Trade philosophy. Little Big dairy won best milk at the New South Wales Dairy awards, and best skim milk at the national dairy awards.
Tim explains that he prefers single source produce for Red Brick so that his work supports local farmers and producers in the same way the Curtin community has embraced and supported his business and its employees.
The coffee beans used in Tim’s 12kg Probat Roaster (a very impressive looking and sounding and smelling machine) are seasonally sourced from different origins, including the most recent from Bolivia.
Bolivian coffee is important because of its unique flavour profile, but also because of the social impact of supporting the Bolivian coffee industry and specialty coffee producers, many based on small family-run farms.
Tim and his team undertake regular blind “cupping” sessions to test the quality of their own blends and roasts.
After sitting down with Tim, learning about his business and watching him interact with his staff and customers I could see how his philosophy made Tim and Myf’s business more ethical and sustainable. Testament to their approach to work and life was the fact that they still had employees from their original café in Belconnen. Just like many of their customers who had moved away from Curtin, their employees would happily drive across Canberra to continue to be part of this great experiment that is Red Brick.
Despite the long hours and demands of running a successful small business in Canberra’s south, Tim and Myf have also recently branched out and opened another coffee shop in Crace called Tinker Tailor Barista Baker. Tinker tailor uses their own coffee from Red Brick as well as breads and pastry from their partners at Knead Bakery in Belconnen.
They also wholesale coffee to 30 other businesses across Canberra each week, from Tuggeranong to Gungahlin and as far away as Queanbeyan. The coffee is roasted in three different blends: Cypher (a Brazilian based traditional espresso blend); Moneyball (a fruit-driven blend with naturally processed Ethiopian coffee. The cherry is fermented in the sun for five days before the fruit is stripped and the beans are dried and processed, giving it an intense sweetness); and Seasonal (this is the coffee the shop usually runs in its own machines each day and is based on the latest origin arrivals). All these blends are available for sale at Red Brick ($16 for 250 grams, $45 for a kilo).
They also sell coffee accessories for people who prefer to brew at home, including the nifty Japanese hand-grinder in the pictured below for $70.
A big part of the success story of Red Brick has been the support of the local community and in particular all the regulars at the Curtin Shops. Tim explains how he has every morning over the past five years watched regular customers and their families grow as they enjoy a relaxed suburban space in which kids can run around on the grass while their parents and grandparents enjoy great coffee and food close to home.
When I asked him why he chose Curtin he explained why he loved the suburb. “It’s a relaxed, easily accessible suburb full of great people and there is a rich history around the local shops, and in particular built around the family that ran the takeaway for 30 years.
That family and other shop-keepers have been very supportive of other local businesses like Red Brick. The well-known local matriarch Viola Kalokerinos still bakes for Tim and Myf, and her delicious home-made lemon slice (still considered the best in Canberra) is still sold at Red Brick.
Tim’s passion for his work is contagious. He is justifiably proud that he employs so many locals and provides a pathway for young baristas and hospitality workers to pursue their passion for coffee. He has also shared the training he provides to his own staff with other cafes who want to improve their customer service, products and business models.
The café is located at 4/35 Caruthers Street Curtin and is open seven days a week. Tel: 02 6285 1668.
Elias Hallaj (aka CBRfoodie) is a part-time food blogger and full-time political staffer who has joined RiotACT as a regular contributor. All opinions are his own. If you have any tips or feedback you can find him on Twitter @CBRfoodie.