Much-loved café says farewell
After operating next to Cow Up A Tree in the centre of Docklands for nearly four years, it was with a heavy heart that the family behind the popular Off With The Ferries café on Harbour Esplanade was forced to farewell customers last month.
The family-run business, led by Brian and Heather Khoury and their son Chris, has become an institution for many locals during its time in Docklands and that status has only been reinforced during the pandemic.
For many locals embarking on their daily “iso-walks” for a coffee, bite to eat and some much-needed social interaction, the Khoury family has provided a vital lifeline for many Docklanders doing it tough through lockdowns.
With Chris generally on in the mornings and Heather and Brian taking afternoons, Off With The Ferries has grown into a “hub” for the local community with the family providing a warm and welcoming meeting place underpinned by great service and coffee.
In what has become so much more than a business for the family, Heather told Docklands News last month that it was the people they would miss the most, many of whom she said had turned into lifelong friendships.
The business was forced to shut its doors on Friday, September 17 after the ferry terminal’s manager Port Phillip Ferries informed the family that it wouldn’t be offered a lease to operate the café in its new future terminal.
As reported by Docklands News on page 9 of this edition, the City of Melbourne has granted a permit to the ferry operator, owned by billionaire Paul Little, to construct a new passenger terminal on Harbour Esplanade, which will include a new café.
While disappointed that an agreement couldn’t be reached with Port Phillip Ferries, Mrs Khoury said the family was “incredibly grateful” for the opportunity it had been given and thanked the Docklands community for its support.
She said while they’d all miss working alongside the amazing waterfront views and Cow Up A Tree every day, it was “being of service to the community” that they’d cherish the most.
“We’ve made lots of friends over the years as you can imagine lots of repeat customers who’ve become friends. And it’s something we’ve always enjoyed doing, we’ve always been in hospitality,” she said.
“Just to hear their everyday comings and goings. You get to know about their families and extended families and grandchildren.”
“I’ve got a few of the young ladies in the apartments on their own during COVID and they’ve been coming in and even if they’re not buying anything we just chat because they just want some social interaction. I call them my ‘adopted girls’, and we’ll remain friends.”
We’ve remained open right throughout lockdown. We get comments left, right and centre – ‘you’re the only place open’ and ‘thank God you’re here’ and things like that.
“It’s [closing] quite emotional but it is what it is, and we have to move on.”
While a start date is yet to be determined for the construction of the new ferry terminal, Port Phillip Ferries said it would soon reopen the existing cafe under new management following some minor renovations.
Many Docklanders expressed their sadness at the news last month with one local even launching a petition, which attracted nearly 500 signatures, calling on Port Phillip Ferries to allow the family to continue operating until the new terminal was built.
Local Sylvia Ryan, who rode her bicycle down each day for her favourite cappuccino and a muffin, said she was “really disappointed” at the news.
“Why would you shut it down? I’m really upset because they work really hard here, they’re really good people with good coffee,” she said.
But while the Khoury family might be farewelling the Harbour Esplanade location they’ve called a second home for nearly four years, Heather said they hadn’t ruled out a return elsewhere in Docklands.
“We’ll regroup and take a couple of weeks just to let it all soak in and maybe have a look around and see what else is available,” she said.
“The people in Docklands are fabulous and they’re not really well looked after from what I can see. It’s a neglected area, which is a shame but that’s what stands out for me. It’s disconnected to a degree.”
“We’ve met some amazing locals over the years. It’s been such a buzz.” •