A few years ago, Niels and Ane Glahn-Bertelsen had one idea in mind: set up a Melbourne-style shipping container bar in Wollongong.
Unfortunately for the ambitious brother and sister, the universe had other plans: they suffered set back after set back as bureaucracy and regulations threatened to get the better of them.
“We went to the bank with our big business plan to open a bar and they just laughed at us,” Niels said. “We were crushed, but then we decided to build our own shipping containers so we could take them with us wherever we set up.”
Then, after a long council approvals process to allow their cafe and bar on Market Street to go ahead, the NSW government knocked back their liquor licence.
Almost out of money, the siblings abandoned the idea for a traditional bar or cafe and began to explore subletting their CBD space.
“We realised we weren’t going to be able to do everything ourselves,” Niels said. “Initially we kept thinking that we had been so unlucky, but eventually – with all the people that came forward and were starting up with us – without knowing it we had a pretty blessed run.”
Sifters first business – Mel Cox’s popular Sifters Espresso – opened in August 2014, and has since been joined by a whole stable of young creatives.
As well as Pepe’s Garden florist and Minty Duds clothing stores which occupy the two Market Street shopfronts, the building and transformed car park provides space for a photography business and a recently vacated free artist’s studio.
Chef Andy Burns’ business, Son of a Gun, serves food six days a week, and cold brew company Coal Coffee calls Sifters home.
“We also recently had an organisation called Jetpack Beluga, which was a grassroots innovation community, holding these brilliant sessions on food sustainability, climate change or refugees on Monday nights,” Ane said.
And, over the past few months food trucks have started serving Friday night dinner from Sifters’ outdoor space, with a BYO drinks option allowing the pair to finally realise their dream of running a bar, of sorts.
“The co-op enables everyone to survive here – we all benefit from each other doing well and all the different businesses marry together,” Niels said.
“Initially when Ane wanted the florist I couldn’t see how it would fit together, but now you see people sitting in the cafe with bunches of flowers or bags of clothes from Minty Duds.”
The Sifters businesses employ more than 20 young people, and the Glahn-Bertelsen siblings say there are still plans to expand.
“We had so many times where we wondered ‘how can we keep going’, but now it’s become its own little creature,” Ane said.
“We’re really proud that we’ve been able to help all these people run a business. It means these talented people stay can in Wollongong and be good at what they do.”