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Have you found it yet? A heritage building filled with art and treasures, and out the back a garden oasis where outstanding coffee and treats are served – and it’s right on our doorstep!

In a strip on Penshurst Street dominated by kitchen shops and scaffolding, there’s something worth a much closer look. Wedged between the nondescript buildings is a charcoal heritage beauty housing some of the North Shore’s most interesting artworks and eclectic homewares, plus a café space that you might never know was there – in fact it’s often referred to as ‘the secret garden’. Welcome to Frame 88, Gallery 88, Produce & Fuel and Mike Cass Creative, all fantastic local enterprises honouring the history of their building.

 

88 Penshurst Street dates back to a very different time in Willoughby. The area was mostly farming land in the early 1900s, and the Hannaford family ran a store in the building selling livestock feed and fuel – hence the name Produce & Fuel. Rare photos of the period show a bustling business, the building adorned with huge ads for Sunlight Soap, and a horse and cart waiting outside. It’s unclear when the Hannafords stopped using the store but there has been a framing business on the premises for more than six decades. Previously known as Metropolitan Framing, the business became Frame 88 twenty years ago. Much of the original brickwork and timber are intact and the building has been lovingly maintained, ensuring a lifeline to Willoughby’s rural heritage.

 

 

Current owner Melissa Wheeler has clearly poured her heart and soul into creating a vibrant and thriving business offering framing services, unique homewares, a gallery space and creative consulting. On any given day you can walk into the store and find a vintage top hat next to a fiddle leaf fig, and quirky affordable artwork hanging next to a huge ornately carved floor mirror. It’s impossible to browse and not find something of interest, and it’s not unusual to hear customers exclaim in delight.

 

 

Then there’s the framing that the business is synonymous with. Ask for a recommendation on the Willoughby Living Facebook Group, and members are quick to respond with praise regarding the quality of work at Frame 88. And their love for showcasing art is apparent from the outset with the adjoining space used as the company’s own exhibition space: Gallery 88, which hosts the works of both established and emerging artists.

 

 

The biggest surprise is left for the back of the store. What was once an under-utilised storage area has been transformed into a garden oasis complete with music (it also makes the plants thrive) and a vintage horse cart which has been given new life as a coffee cart. The Produce & Fuel website describes it perfectly: “The store is a plant lovers’ paradise, a fusion of pots, design, plants and of course a coffee mecca.  Benefiting from collaboration with the creative talents at Frame 88, Produce & Fuel begs you to retire to little private spaces to sit and chat, or meet up and enjoy the sun at the long communal table. Look at the sculpture, listen to the tunes, enjoy the art, explore the succulent creations, and be inspired by the design and the history.”

 

 

It was just two years ago that Melissa called on long-time friend, Mike Cass – a designer and landscaper to create something special. Says Mike: “I met with Mel to re-imagine the concrete slab that was an unused, wasted space. The area demanded something like this, a sanctuary away from the busy road.” Mike’s creative vision has revitalised the space, which customers now rave about for its inspiring setting. The coffee has also been receiving plaudits, which is quite a feat in a suburb with a cafe on every corner.

Pepe, as the coffee cart is affectionately named, is also a hit. Mike found the old horse trailer abandoned in a field on the Northern Beaches and set about restoring it and then transforming it into a fully-functioning coffee cart. “She’s named after my grandmother who fuelled my addiction to coffee from an early age,” he laughs.

 

 

In addition to the Produce & Fuel café space, Mike runs two more businesses – Design-it Landscapes and the design arm, Mike Cass Creative (it was the latter involved in the collaboration with Frame 88 to create the amazing garden cafe). And just when you think the surprises are all over he points out his ‘office’ which is a repurposed (of course) shipping container in the middle of the Produce & Fuel garden.

It’s truly inspiring to see the work that’s been put into reimagining and rejuvenating one of our local area’s most historic spaces, but it was only last year that it looked as though it would all come crashing down. The building came under threat when there was a development application to knock it down to make way for new units. Thankfully the community rallied. “Mel and I love the area so much,” says Mike. “We love the people first and foremost. There is an amazing sense of community in Willoughby and a lot of people have supported us especially in regards to the development application to knock down the building, which was denied. This was partly due to the hundreds of customers that signed our petition against it.”

Business is now thriving and there are plenty of exciting projects in the pipeline for the team. There are plans to hire out the verdant Product & Fuel space for private functions and there are more gallery events in the diary as well. “We are also planning to expand the food and drink offerings available,” mentions Mike. There’s more than enough on offer currently though to keep everyone happy – including all natural ice blocks for kids, and even a water bowl for visiting fur customers.

 

 

So next time you walk down that unexceptional stretch of busy Penshurst Street, pop in to the charcoal building at number 88, take refuge from the noisy road, sit back and enjoy the coffee and the beautiful garden, and be prepared to fall in love with a treasured new piece of art to hang on your wall. And then you’ll have to make the decision on whether to tell everyone you know about this amazing space or keep the special find all to yourself…

Frame 88, Produce & Fuel, and Mike Cass Creative are located at 88 Penshurst St, Willoughby. Visit their websites for more: http://www.produceandfuel.com/ http://www.frame88.com.au/

 

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