NotesThis sign belonged to Dorothy Henry who worked at Repin's Coffee Inn on Market Street from 1937 until it closed in 1970. Dorothy came to Sydney in 1937 looking for work and took a job as a waitress at Repin's. She later became the assistant manager.
Repin's on Market Street opened in 1933 and became a popular meeting place for city workers and shoppers. Dorothy told the Daily Telegraph in 1970, just after the coffee inn closed, that: '"Customers?" she said, "I loved them but they were more regulars to me than just customers." She also said: '"You should have seen the queues of them, right from Castlereagh Street to Pitt, and we had to close the doors to get any business done."'
Much of the following history is taken from Museum correspondence with George Repin.
Repin's coffee inns began in September 1930 when Ivan Repin (1888-1949) opened his first one at 152 King Street, Sydney. This coffee inn met with great success and many more were opened in the 1930s.
Before World War II Australia was a predominantly tea drinking society. However coffee has a long history in Australia going back to when the British came in 1788. Nicola Teffer writes that the First Fleet unloaded coffee seeds and plants collected in Brazil on their way to Australia. Sydney's climate was not suitable for producing coffee commercially and the cost of coffee was expensive, leading to colonists experimenting with substitutes that were often unsuccessful. In the 1870s coffee palaces appeared in Sydney however they did not last long. When Repin's coffee inns opened in the 1930s coffee began to take off with Sydney's sophisticated set and European migrants. Some Repin's coffee inns were popular in the 1950s with members of the Sydney Push who were intellectuals and artists. It was written in the Sydney Morning Herald that aspiring politicians such as a young Paul Keating drank there when, '... he and Laurie Brereton and Bob Carr and a dozen others talked about the Labor Party and how they would change it.'
Before Repin's coffee was served in restaurants and was not charged for as it was included as part of the meal. At this time there were no espresso machines or instant coffee. The coffee served was usually coffee essence added to hot water. When ground coffee beans were used they were often stale and brewed in advance and sometimes reheated the next day. Repin's coffee was freshly brewed and they charged for it. There was initially some negative reaction to the charge but once customers tasted the difference they continued to purchase it. This is significant because Repin's opened during the Depression. However, a second cup was free of charge. This practice didn't end until after the start of World War II.
Other enterprises other than coffee inns were opened by the Repin's family including milk bars, restaurants and a coffee processing factory. When Ivan Repin died in 1949 his son George took over and in 1955 opened Moka in Kings Cross. George travelled to Italy in 1954 and saw the recently invented Gaggia espresso machine that was rapidly spreading in popularity in Italy. He thought the espresso machine would be popular in Sydney. David Jones installed a Gaggia in their Market Street food hall in early 1955, before Moka was opened. However, George Repin wrote that Moka was the 'first specifically planned espresso coffee lounge in Sydney'. Moka was successful though it took a while for customers to take to the new espresso taste and the machines were installed in some of their other shops. George wrote that before the espresso machine coffee at Repin's was 'prepared by a bulk filter method and kept hot in an urn. (A bed of ground coffee on a calico filter through which boiling water was poured.) Turnover was rapid so that coffee did not sit long in an urn.'
Many of the Repin's businesses closed down over the years as the buildings they occupied were sold or demolished. With escalating city rents, increased competition and individual family interests lying outside the coffee industry, the Repin's family began to progressively close their businesses down from 1966. The last to close was the Golden Scroll Restaurant in 1971.
'Daily Telegraph', "Coffee house era ends", 7 February, 1970, p. 10.
George Repin, correspondence with Powerhouse Museum Assistant Curator Rachel Dowling, 30 June 2007.
Hotel and Cafe News, 'Class comes to the cross', February 1956, pp. 14-15.
J. Laffin, 'The Repin Story', Hotel and Cafe News, April 1955, pp.12-15.
John Edwards, The Sydney Morning Herald, 24/09/1988 from database 'Factiva', http://global.factiva.com.ezproxy1.library.usyd.edu.au/ha/default.aspx, p.3, viewed 19/04/07.
Nicola Teffer, Coffee Customs, exhibition brochure, Customs House Management, 2005.