Popular coffee shop to open new city centre site as part of former Hills transformation

A popular independent coffee shop will open its first city centre site as part of the ongoing transformation of the former Hills bookstore.

Monday, 23rd August 2021, 3:12 pm
Updated Monday, 23rd August 2021, 5:35 pm

After building up a loyal following at their first shop in Durham Road, Grinder Coffee Co will open a larger sister site in Waterloo Place.

The site, which closed as Hills in 2008, is undergoing a huge revamp after being taken over by Broadside Creatives Community Interest Company who are turning it into a multi-purpose arts centre housing a cafe, supplies shop, gallery, offices and exhibition space.

The arts centre is breathing new life into the former book store, a once iconic shop in the city which opened in 1852 in Fawcett Street before moving to Waterloo Place where it was much loved by Wearsiders. Since its time as Hills, the site has been Reds salon, a clothes shop and a charity shop, but it’s been empty for a number of years.

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The coffee shop will be housed within the new arts centre due to open at the site later this year

Grinder will be running the coffee shop side of the new business in a space which, at triple the size of their Durham Road venture, means they can expand their current offering thanks to an on site kitchen and more seating.

Michael Curtis, who owns and runs Grinder Coffee Co with Riki Tsang, said it was great to be opening on the site of a book shop he once visited as a school pupil.

“Mark (Burns Cassell) from Broadside comes into Grinder and has become a friend of ours,” Michael explained. “He saw how popular Grinder has become and was looking for a coffee shop to be housed within the building in Waterloo Place, and when he approached us we jumped at the chance.”

"It’s a great opportunity for us to move into the city centre and it’s definitely exciting. We’re a little anxious too as we’re still in a pandemic, but we felt it was too good an opportunity to turn down. There’s going to be a lot happening in the building and it’s great to be housed with so many other independents and creatives.”

The site was beloved during its time as Hills book store

The Durham Road site has adapted to a purely takeout model due to the pandemic and, while a small amount of seating will return, the original Grinder will still operate as mostly takeout.

Meanwhile, the city centre site will expand the Grinder food offering from pastries and cakes to lunches. light bites and menus to suit what exhibitions are ongoing in the building at the time, and will be geared towards sit in custom.

The new sister site is also more accessible with full wheelchair access and facilities for patrons.

Grinder opened its doors for the first time in September 2019 and, although being plunged into a pandemic seven months into a new business has been daunting, Michael says the lockdowns have also fostered a huge amount of support for independent businesses in the city.

Grinder Coffee Co. co-owner Michael Curtis is to open a second site in the city centre

He explained: "We were one of the first coffee shops to reopen for takeout after the first lockdown and we gained a lot of new customers who’ve been very supportive."

Michael added: "We wondered if, once places started opening back up, that it would switch back to how it was before, but that hasn’t been the case. People really want to support local. Social media has been a big boost too in these times, with lots of people sharing their photos with our coffees and cakes.”

It’s hoped the transformation of Hills will be complete by the end of the year, with a name announced for the arts centre soon.

Mark Burns Cassell, executive director of Broadside Creatives CIC, has already had success in breathing new life into old city buildings after taking over the former Creative Cohesion studios in Nile Street and also running studios in Norfolk Street and John Street.

He said: “We are delighted to be undertaking our most ambitious venture to date, boosting our cultural economy, supporting local artists, and bringing vibrancy and creativity to Sunderland's High Street.

"It is a true pleasure to be the new custodians of this iconic building, and we just can't wait to bring it back to life.”

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