It’s a match made, if not in heaven, then certainly in the 19th Century.
The 1892 Hopetoun Tea Rooms, a much-loved Melbourne institution, has signed a lease on the 1859 Kozminsky building on Bourke Street, close to the Bourke Street Mall in the city centre.
“The tea rooms had been looking around for a while for a suitable premises after they left The Block Arcade following a disagreement with the owners,” said Fitzroys director Rick Berry, who facilitated the deal.
“Now they’ve settled on the lovely historic Kozminsky building and are taking over all the space over three levels. It’s a real beauty and it’s going to be lovely to have a Victorian-style tea room in a Victorian-style building, and it’s a really positive result for Melburnians to see business coming back so strongly.”
The tea rooms were well known around the country for their stunning displays of cakes in the front window, with queues usually waiting to be able to get inside to buy. They went into administration earlier this year after the dispute with The Block’s owners and were put up for sale in March, amid fears they could be lost to the city forever.
But businessman Vikramjeet Singh, with a tea plantation background from India, is the new owner of the business and, after extensive remodelling work to the building at 421 Bourke Street by Sydney-based architects Landini Associates, is hoping to open by Easter 2021.
“We had to be really conscientious when choosing the new home for this iconic Melbourne brand which has served high teas to generations of Australians over the last 128 years of its beautiful history,” said Mr Singh.
“Now, a 161-year-old heritage building is where we really imagined the next generation gathering and enjoying their beautiful moments over a cup of our tea room blends and handcrafted cakes and savouries. This new three-level site also allows us enough space to actually do in-house creation of each cuisine that we plan to serve in our tearooms.”
The tea rooms were named after the wife of the first Governor-General of Australia in 1901, and former Governor of Victoria, John Hope, the seventh earl of Hopetoun. Lady Hopetoun, a Scots-born Irish aristocrat, was said to have been the one to have introduced Melbourne to the ritual of high tea and laid the foundation stone of the tea rooms.
Mr Singh said he asked himself, “If Lady Hopetoun had to choose today, what place would she consider suitable for her tea rooms?”
Research then revealed she’d been a patron of the 169-year-old jewellery firm Kozminsky, which took over the building after the departure of its original resident, the first branch of the Commercial Bank of Australia. The jewellers vacated the building in 2018 to move to other premises.
“We fell in love with the beautiful Victorian-era building the moment we saw it,” said Mr Singh, who plans to rename it Hopetoun House.
The building’s classical form and detailing – with an imposing entrance, symmetrically arranged ground-floor facade, arched windows and horizontal cornicing – was reflective of the success and stature of the first owners. One of those was William Kaye, a member of Victoria’s Legislative Council.
As well as Bourke Street Mall, the building is also close to the new Brookfield/ISPT-owned NAB headquarters at 405 Bourke Street and Cbus Property’s $1 billion office tower project at number 435.
“It’s in a great part of the city and we’re seeing a big number of inquiries [with] more than 15 CBD retail leasing negotiations underway right now,” said Fitzroys’ Mr Berry. “So we should see a string of new retailers opening up around February, which is great news for the CBD.
“It’s still quite quiet [post-COVID-19 lockdown], but everyone’s keenly anticipating the return of activity to the city with the sense that the city is opening up again, and this is a great addition.”
Plans are now being finalised for the renovation of the Kozminsky building, with Mr Singh planning for the casual cafe to be on the ground floor, formal tea rooms on the first level for high teas and functions, and the kitchen at the top.
“I do have some connections with tea estates back in India and that attracted me to these tea rooms,” said Mr Singh. “I think tea rooms have often been taken over by the idea of cafes but I’m aiming to bring the European notion of tea rooms back to the fore.
“We have over 200 varieties of beautiful teacups, we’ll have many different types of tea, a beautiful ambience, and abundant cake displays. This will give us a lot of space to showcase what we do best.”
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