Champions of the community in every sense

Champions of the community in every sense

For this month’s North and West Melbourne Precinct Association (NWMPA) column we begin the first in a series columns showcasing North and West Melbourne’s “Precinct Ambassadors”.

It’s for those invaluable members of the community that are integral to the fabric of North and West Melbourne.

To kick things off we have the powerhouse couple behind North Melbourne’s coffee culture revolution, Andrew and Genevieve Kelly.

Although the term “powerhouse couple” would not sit comfortably with this humble duo, you would be hard pressed to find two people who have done more for their communities both locally and abroad.

The first in a long list of local credentials came when the couple founded institutional Errol St cafe, Auction Rooms, back in 2008.

“We couldn’t quite understand how North Melbourne didn’t have a café that ticked all the inner-city boxes. It has cafes, and very successful ones, but we felt we could offer something a little different,” Ms Kelly said.

“Melbourne was just on the cusp of the coffee revolution, and we were very fortunate with our timing.”

“There have been successful businesses here, and they are well-loved by the people who have been here for a long time, so it is nice to see new places come in to sit alongside them, because to lose those businesses would be to lose the old-school heart and soul of North Melbourne.”

In the eight-year span to selling Auction Rooms in 2016, Mr Kelly had begun what would eventually become a lifelong pursuit and passion for ethically sourced and consciously produced coffee.

Enter Small Batch Roasting Co., the nearby offshoot that would transform the trajectory of their business lives.

While Auction Rooms was their “flagship cafe; Small Batch is the coffee that made it famous.”

Mr Kelly’s commitment to an unwavering ethos of exceptional tasting coffee that has positive social impacts and supports sustainable agriculture is something to behold.

“We found a systemic suppression of producers by businesses as they are seen to be at the bottom of the supply line,” Mr Kelly said.

“After a long process of investigation, we realised we had to do something, and that something was starting a company in Columbia.”

“Working directly with producers we were then able to begin the conversation about regenerative and organic agriculture. It’s one thing to have great tasting coffee, but it’s not going to be around for long if you are depleting your soils horrendously.”

According to Mr Kelly, without a Spanish speaking guide he would often be fed the party line from companies that claimed they were working in the best interests of local producers.

Following extensive investigation, he found out his payments to producers would take up to 14 months to arrive, and in some cases, not at all.

It wasn’t until a chance meeting with a local producer by the name of Didier, did Mr Kelly finally crack through the layers of ambiguity and deceit associated with sourcing coffee.

“Consumers want to be fair, equitable and honourable, but they don’t know how to navigate a world that full of pretty words,” Mr Kelly said. “There is much more connectedness between producers across multiple countries, seven or eight years ago, that probably wasn’t there.”

Along with tirelessly championing equitable and sustainable business practices abroad, the Kelly’s are also very active locally.

Ms Kelly sits on the committee of North Melbourne Primary School, where she is also employed by the school as part of its education support team, assisting children with learning disabilities or diagnosed conditions and need extra support in the classroom.


Maybe powerhouse couple might not be the right term, but they certainly do a power of work to make their communities a better place.  •


Caption: Genevieve and Andrew Kelly at their Little Howard St café and roastery.

John Buncle

John Buncle

February 14th, 2024 - Felicity Jack
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