Something fishy from The Espressionist

words by Jack Hayes

It was an idea formed on one of the holiest days on the Christian calendar.

Inspired by the Good Friday rush at a local fish and chip shop, the team at The Espressionist at Yarra’s Edge, has brought new life into a business battered by the effects of coronavirus (COVID-19).

BaitShop by The Espressionist, the newest culinary venture from husband and wife Demian and Victoria Gibbins, is a homage to an Australian takeaway tradition. 

Their approach is simple. Great quality fresh and seasonal produce cooked by qualified chefs and served as you would remember; nostalgically wrapped in butcher’s paper. 

Following an opening night which “exceeded all expectations” Mr Gibbins admitted flipping his entire business was a gamble he had to take, not just for his business and family, but for the livelihoods of his 13-strong team. 

“Along with everyone, we were experiencing such a level of uncertainty and such a fall in sales, which meant there was a temptation to close certain days or shorten open hours,” Mr Gibbins said.  

“Our goal has always been to keep as many people working as possible. It wasn’t a move without risks. We committed to this philosophy of staying open, and we are starting to see the reward for that.”

Building their business from the ground up, The Espressionist first came to life as a humble coffee cart in a gallery. 

Four years on, Mr and Mrs Gibbins have transformed their space to become a Docklands destination. Now they face a whole new challenge. 

“We aren’t supported by a big hospitality group: this is just us,” Mrs Gibbins said. “So, when we were first faced with the restrictions, we just had to keep going and make sure our business falls into what is considered ‘essential’.”

“We have a moral obligation to stay open. We have whole lot of houses that are relying on us, so we can’t shut.” 

After an 80 per cent drop in business and growing uncertainty, the couple was forced back to the drawing board. 

Their first move was to continue producing great quality takeaway coffee while turning The Espressionist into a makeshift greengrocer. 

“We created a list of ideas that have been in the pipeline for years and tried to roll them out as quickly as possible,” Mrs Gibbins said. “Without creating the grocer and take-home meals, we wouldn’t have been able to support our staff through this.”

“There is a role we’ve played in providing normalcy to locals. Our customers come at the same time every day as they normally would and are so happy to have a purpose to get out of their homes and connect.”

First thought as a stop-gap to keep business flowing and keep staff with jobs, the tremendous response from locals to the BaitShop, has forced Mr Gibbins hand in rethinking what life after COVID-19 would look like for The Espressionist. 

“By the end of the opening night, our whole team was in tears. We prepped for three days’ worth of fish and chips and sold out within a couple of hours,” Mr Gibbins said.

“Once we allowed to have customers sit down and eat again, we’re thinking we might turn it into a fish and chip wine bar.” •

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May 4th, 2022 - Abby Crawford
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