When Chris Dennis first decided to open his cafe Two Before Ten at the derelict Aranda shops in 2014, he knew it was a gamble.
Now nearly five years on since the cafe served its first coffee, the Bandjalong Crescent site that was once abandoned has sprung back to life, resembling the bustling community hub it was formerly known for.
The site was designed by Dutch architect Dirk Bolt in 1968, hosting a variety of businesses for several decades. However, the 2000s held quieter times before Chris Dennis took on the site’s master lease in an attempt to try and bring life back to its beautiful grounds.
“It was definitely a gamble and I naively grossly underestimated the amount of work,” Dennis said, laughing.
“It was a ghost town and it had been that way for a decade. There were tumbleweeds and syringes in the carpark.
“It was not a pleasant place at all. I think it was voted the second ugliest building in Canberra.
“It used to be the classic Canberra local shopping centre but as Jamison shopping plaza expanded, there wasn’t a demand for it and around 20 years ago, the businesses all slowed down.”
Despite the magnitude of the job that lay before him, Dennis knew the power of good coffee and a destination cafe.
“I live in Yass and I used to drive all the way to Braddon to have brunch and decent coffee because there was nothing between Yass and Braddon,” he shared.
“I realised there had to be a demand. If I was driving that far, people living in Page and Holt would be doing exactly the same thing. By putting our destination cafe and roastery in there, we were able to attract people to come to Aranda.
“The support we have got has far exceeded what I thought we would get. The locals have been ridiculously supportive and the greater Belconnen region has really got behind us.”
The 50-year-old building now includes a boutique cafe Two Before Ten, a coffee roaster, Bolt Bar, a yoga studio and a boutique store supporting Australian designers.
The extremely worn-out carpark, however, still remains and is next on Dennis’s master plan.
“We have been at the shops now for five years and it has been a slow process to rebuild everything,” Dennis said.
“We now want to fix the carpark and also provide a handicapped toilet. There is no ambulant access to the bathrooms, and people have to go down the driveway, along the footpath and through fire doors just to get to the toilet if they can’t get downstairs.
“They are incredibly costly and to fix the carpark, it will cost $60,000 which is cash we don’t have floating around. We started the GoFundMe page because the community has been very supportive since day one through their patronage.
“We have put the funds up ourselves to get it repaired – but we are only halfway so are reaching out to our beautiful community to come together with us to help finish it off.”
The GoFundMe page can be found here.