May 4th, 2012 by Crafty Pint
Melbourne’s Chapel Street is like the city itself in microcosm. Start at the Toorak Road end and it’s high end boutiques, higher heels, sleek convertibles and sleeker hairdos. Head towards the Bay and it gets grungier and – to the residents of Crafty Towers at least – more interesting. Imagine making the journey from south of the river to the inner north, just in reverse and far less paces. It’s home to a bottleshop and bar that could act as a litmus test for the street. Move Chapel St Cellars a kilometre or two closer to the Yarra and its off kilter, Santa’s grotto for boozehounds setup would stick out like a sore thumb. Yet sat where it is – in the heart of Windsor – it fits like a glove, its quirkiness encapsulating the spirit of the suburb itself.
This month it celebrates five years of bringing some of the world’s quirkiest drinks – sakes, beers, bitters, cordials, you name it – to the people. Owners Joanne and Rob are celebrating by offering in store specials – and by telling The Crafty Pint about their five year ride, one they describe as “a mixture of great delight and sheer tiredness”.
“I think we can give a big tick to our time here,” says Rob. “But it is not the place we had imagined. We started with a plan for an online business with a small wine bar / bottleshop run under management. However, given we could not find a suitable manager, we decided to come down from Sydney to run it ourselves. Once here, we found ourselves adapting to our customers' requests for all types of alcoholic beverages. The place has been evolving ever since and it is stillâ¦ Craft beer and cider has been the major driver for the past three years. For example, Joanne is a trained wine educator but she has only ever taught or facilitated beer related classes and tastings.”
Since making the move, they have fitted out the shop themselves, creating a venue that demands exploration thanks to the many unique products and surprises found throughout and which was named best small bottleshop in Victoria in 2011. It turns out that the five years has been something of a voyage of discovery for the couple too.
“Joanne and I taught ourselves about craft beer, artisan ciders and spirits to the level that we can offer advice to our customers,” he says. “We can now both make a great coffee, we can craft the odd cocktail – my quadruple espresso martini is amazing if I say so myself! The shop has allowed us both to become fairly complete âdrinksâ people.
“We provide personal service, have great product knowledge, are interested in our customers, are passionate about what we do and have a great little menu but also let customers BYO food. We are lucky in that Joanne and I both had a great wine knowledge so we initially stocked the shop with amazing value for money wines and that helped to retain new customers. We carried that philosophy into all of the other products we have subsequently introduced.
“I think that ‘Drink Different’ sums up [our approach] from the point of view of the stock we carry. We look for products that have a great look as well as flavor. And again, we listen to our customers; they have shaped the way this place runs as much as we have. We also taste 80 to 90 per cent of the stock we carry. For example, we donât just roll over from one vintage of wine to the next, we taste to make sure that the wine has all of the attributes that we expect. We try to favour smaller producers too. We lose sales by not stocking mainstream brands from the big guys but we are happy to do so because in most cases, we are giving people a better product at the same or similar price.”
Looking ahead, Rob says they are looking to place more emphasis on their online business and are keen to move into more of a management role (to deal with the “sheer tiredness” we imagine). Beyond that?
“A week or two on a tropical island,” says Rob. “Then maybe a few more Chapel St Cellars?”
To celebrate their milestone, from Sunday to Thursday throughout May they are offering punters their first 500ml tap beer or cider for just $5.