INSIDE STORY: The death of Brisbane’s cafe icon
IT started as a 'wrong decision' but this iconic Brisbane site was transformed into a launch pad for one of the city's most memorable cafe brands.
Cafe 63 founders Hamish and Val Watson this month bid farewell to their hospitality industry baby - the original Cafe 63 on Racecourse Rd at Hamilton.
For 13 years it had been nestled within one of Brisbane's premier retail streets, in one of its most exclusive suburbs.
It had become the place to meet for thousands of locals, as well we visitors to city and nearby Eagle Farm Race Course.
However the brutal force of COVID-19 on the hospitality industry signalled the end of an era.
The cafe was never actually meant to be a cafe at all - instead it was meant to be a delicatessen.
"Myself and my wife Val moved to Australia from New Zealand in November 2007," Mr Watson said.
"I was fresh from a career in agricultural economics, plant protection in crop, fruit and vegetable farming, dairy farming and the retailing of fresh flowers.
"My wife and I purchased a delicatessen business at 63 Racecourse Rd with great expectation of success.
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"Within days it was clear we had made a mistake - wrong rent, wrong location, wrong industry - and disaster loomed.
"Three days after opening the delicatessen we made the tough decision to shift the focus and we changed the business to focus on breakfast and coffee.
"This was the birth of Cafe 63."
As the years went on, Cafe 63, which became known for selling beautiful bouquets as well as brews, blossomed.
"From breakfast we added lunch, then dinner, and then started opening 24 hours.
"The wonderful team of staff also grew, and they needed a future.
"Some of the staff expressed interest in opening their own Cafe 63 store, and I was encouraging and offered advice.
"From there, the multiple site brand Cafe 63 was born."
The brand now spans as far as Perth and has grown to include more than 30 locations.
"Opening multiple sites was difficult but it came with many great lessons," Mr Watson said.
"The year 2020 looked tough for the hospitality industry before COVID-19.
"If there was going to be a challenge to make all previous challenges look insignificant - here it was."
Eventually, after more than four months battling the COVID-19 downturn, the fate of the very first Cafe 63 was sealed.
"The decision to close the original Cafe 63 on Racecourse Rd was difficult given its history but we plan to look to the future and enjoy what tomorrow brings," Mr Watson said.
"On the day we closed I was there and greeted many customers that had been to the cafe almost daily.
"Sixty-three Racecourse Rd - like many of the other Cafe 63s - had become an important part of the community for many.
"It was a place to gather, a place to feel the warmth of strangers, a place with unbelievable human energy. It was a marvel to watch and even as a customer you felt part of the Cafe 63 magic.
"Our focus on customers and our team meant we were able to make sacrifices now to enable a better future for Cafe 63."
But could a full-size Cafe 63 at its home on Racecourse Rd be gone forever?
"In this health and economic crisis we are on our way to a new norm, and are working with our landlords, suppliers, staff and customers to thrive," Mr Watson said.
"We would love to open another full-size Cafe 63 on Racecourse Rd in the future."
Originally published as INSIDE STORY: The death of Brisbane's cafe icon