St ALi buys Melbourne’s Auction Rooms

St ALi has announced it is the new owner of Melbourne café Auction Rooms.

“The deal is done. We’ve signed on the dotted line,” says St Ali Founder Salvatore Malatesta.

When news of the acquisition broke on 7 November, social media headlines circulated and reactions were mixed – some positive, some disappointed and others shocked at the news.

“It’s been really surprising and overwhelming to see the reaction, with one news piece about the sale reaching 1 million views. It’s not like Apple is buying Samsung, but people are attached to their local café and can be resistant to change. The important thing for local Auction Room lovers to realise is that not much will change for them,” Salvatore says.

“Auction rooms will remain Auction Rooms as we know it. It will retain the same name, the same roasted coffee from Small Batch, current operations will remain untouched, and we’ll just integrate a little St ALi touch.”

That “added touch” comes in the idea of new ownership from St ALi family members and the potential to open the venue at night time.

The new Auction Rooms shareholders includes Salvatore, Eddie Pan, one of St ALi’s roasters and 2016 Thailand Barista Champion; Andy Todd, Sensory Lab Head Roaster and Production Manager; Jimmy Yeoman, Sensory Lab National Sales Manager; and Lachlan Ward, Sensory Lab Retail Operations Manager.

“We want our staff to be embedded in our success, and this was a fantastic opportunity for them to step forward in their careers,” says Salvatore. “If you start in the hospitality industry at age 23, you really don’t want to be doing floor service at 30. That’s a young person’s game and your daily pay rate won’t change that much, so you really want to be owning something. We’re thrilled we can provide this opportunity to our valued staff members.”

Salvatore says rather than opening “another” St ALi venue and adding to Melbourne’s bustling café scene, the decision to buy Auction Rooms was in the best interest of the St ALi business, and for the city’s café culture.

“About nine months ago I approached Andrew [Kelly] (Auction Rooms Founder) and said if you ever felt like selling the business for a reasonable price, I’d be interested. He called me recently and said: ‘It’s time, how can we work together on this?’ Melbourne doesn’t need another St ALi café at this stage. Auction rooms is such an icon of specialty coffee in this city since it opened in 2008, why not celebrate that. I don’t want to change it that much. Small batch brew delicious coffee and it’s got a great reputation,” Salvatore says.

Speaking of iconic venues, Salvatore says Melbourne’s Pellegrini’s – a family-run Italian coffeehouse – is another example of a historic sight he would love to buy. So Pellegrini’s, if you’re ever interested, Salvatore’s open to a chat.

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