The New Block in Town…

Robe. A tallship heritage town with stunning beaches, rugged coastlines, lobster boats and a thriving cafe, restaurant and retail precinct. A destination for all ages. Something for everyone.

Yet in the last decade, we have seen a new grass roots phenomena occurring. And it’s all happening in the most unlikely space - the Industrial Area.

Sounds a bit interesting – and yes it is – the key is to ask the locals the question “Why Robe?” and they will invariably say that they came to Robe and fell in love with it. And then they stayed.

Still, making an income out of a busy seasonal town like Robe is a challenge, but this obstacle is one many new entrepreneurs have overcome.

We see semi-retired professionals starting new boutique industries, or families wanting to give themselves the best of both worlds in the country, by embarking on unique business ideas. With a lack of retail space in Victoria Street, the industrial area became the most viable and became for many, the best option.

Next time you’re in town, take a detour down Robe Street and do a lap around the blocks of Flint and White Streets and Evans Cave Road, to enjoy a roadshow of epicunary warehouse delights. Don’t be in a rush…

Let’s start with Andrew and Marg Lawrie of Sky Seafoods. Andrew comes from a long line of fishermen, with his father Walky Lawrie fishing at Robe back when the channel opened in 1964, connecting the Lake to the Sea. Andrew took the punt on selling lobsters as an exporter in 1986 on Flint Street, selling the bounty to Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and China. They moved to their current premises on Robe Street in 1997, with the export markets now primarily to China, Singapore and Malaysia. Sky Seafoods has not looked back, and has evolved as a business, keeping lobsters in the live tanks for both export and the local restaurant trade, so that our visitors never miss out on the delicacy. Get your fresh fish here as well as lots of homemade goodies such as pates and nut brittle. Recently they have opened The Dock, where they specialise in seafood platters, local fish and chips and Mick’s homemade spring rolls with plum sauce. Grab a cooked cray and find a spot overlooking the ocean.

They tell me that you have to have a “better nose” than a winemaker to become a successful coffee roaster. An art form that requires a discerning palate. It was local chef meets summer waitress during the magic of holidays and voila, a love of food was showcased with the formation of the Wild Mulberry Café. From there, Mahalia Coffee was born. With their passion for coffee exemplified in the small roastery, it was fabulous to see Paul and Mahalia keep their business in their hometown, raising family and becoming advocates for baristas and that humble bean. “We select our beans from the finest plantations globally, with an emphasis on those adopting Rainforest Alliance, organic, and shade-grown methodologies, without ever wavering on quality standards.” These principles are showcased in their Robe Store, where coffee is an art form, and their shop is divine, filled to the brim with china, stunning giftware, all things coffee and tea related, books and quirky décor. A must do.

Next door we have Holiday Warehouse. Whilst their original concept store lies in Robe’s main drag, the warehouse is popular for it’s massive sales. Holiday Trading & Co was established in 2009, their collections “are designed for real women with real bodies and real lifestyles” with “soft washed colours, and bright exotic patterns mix with beautiful natural linens and cottons to create a combination of essential summertime pieces.” Summer is what you get when you walk through the door. Stylish bargains to be had from handbags and shoes to floaty summer dresses and homewares.

Further up we have an extraordinary business venture that pushes the limits of our minds through recycling. Winner of the Australian Small Business Awards in 2022, Transmutation are Brad and Narelle Scott, whose passion for recycling is next level. “Transmutation literally means to transform and change and was used specifically in times gone by to describe the alchemical process of transmuting lead to gold.” Well - their ideas are definitely gold. To put it short and sweet, they pay for a pallet of colour-sorted bread tags each month, and using a car jack and an oven for heat and compression, they are able to make a stylish and quality “bread tag bowl” in a superb array of colours. They are hot in demand. In return the bread tag providers use their revenue to help buy wheelchairs for disabled children in Africa. Not to stop there, they are now making small black bowl sets out of recycled Styrofoam. Their shop is a treasure trove of recycled wares from Transmutation and other remarkable artists.

Round the corner we go to the Robe Town Brewery, and another great story. It all started in the Latvian forest, when Maris thought he may as well brew beer whilst the fire was going to keep warm. Bringing his family to Australia, Maris & Kristi soon “discovered” Robe, and decided to stay. The Robe Town Brewery was established in 2012, when a deep interest in traditional and historic brewing methods, and experimentation, led to one of the world’s most unique breweries, and indeed Australia’s only wood-fired enterprise. “The malt is mashed in oak-barrel mash tuns and filtered through hay. The extract is then vigorously boiled on a real wood fire in our custom-built wood-fired kettle.” They have an amazing range of beers from pale to dark and stormy, to sours and some very interesting collaborations. It’s a great spot to catch up, has that huge warehouse slash mens shed feel, and Friday nights and Sunday arvos there is live music and a regular Open Mic. Did I tell you that they serve Robe Gin made by a local electrician? Do yourself a favour and drop right in and say hello to Maris, Artist Kristi and the team.

We cannot drive past Mike’s Beef Jerky who proudly advertise the SA Brand, and call themselves “Another Proud Robe SA Business.” For two Canadians, that is a really big deal, as Mike and Cindy Epp have fully embraced Australian opportunity and small town life in the village of Robe. Mike used to make jerky out of their family’s deer quota back in Canada, and now he uses this same knowledge to make beef jerky in Oz. And it has won awards. The point of difference is that they cook their meat instead of dehydrating it to death like their competition. The moisture is therefore retained in the beef, resulting in a far more tender jerky, and it comes in Original, Chilli, and my favourite Black Pepper. I could sit and listen to these Canadians talk all day whilst munching away. And just so you know, it’s gluten free, low in fat and full of flavour….now it’s time for you to wander into the warehouse and say hello.

The Cantina on Evans Cave Road is like entering an Aladdin’s Cave. A property portraying an eclectic mix of recycled artistry in the gardens, equipped with a stage for annual bohemian music festivals, and complete with wandering chooks, the Cantina is also home to a new cellar door operator, The Good Intentions Wine Company. Farmer Andrew and Musician Louise Adams have their own winery in Mount Gambier, and their vintages are showcased both in the Mount and at the Robe Cantina cellar doors. “We use old world wine methods, preferring the challenges of hand picking our fruit, open fermenting with indigenous yeast and only adding sulphur when required by the wine. We do not filer or fine our wines and they are all bottled on site in our small winery.” This keeps with the environmental tone of the Cantina. Be sure to visit this cellar door when in Robe.

We cannot exclude the others who live in this thriving hub. We have Happyshack, for stylish boutique accommodation, rolled in with Jaxon Living Building & Design, the Advantage Business Group accounting team, Jordan Kelly Design, Edge Mechanical, SE Plumbing and Kristina Alexander Hairdressing.

They’re all happily bouncing off each other out there in warehouse land, great minds, big thinkers, doing what they do best.

Just adding another layer of what to see and do in Robe. It’s time you chucked a few laps and checked them out…

Posted: 18 September 2023