See inside Sunderland's new Grinder Central in transformed historic Hills bookstore building

A successful coffee shop has brought its popular brews to the city centre – and the site is a real turn up for the books.

Thursday, 10th February 2022, 11:37 am

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Grinder Central is one of the creative businesses to open their doors in the former Hills bookstore in Waterloo Place, which has undergone a major refurbishment to transform it into a community hub.

Now called Hills once more, the once-beloved book shop is now home to a coffee shop, beauty studio, gallery space, artist studios and counselling room.

Grinder Central is one of the businesses to occupy the ground floor of Hills Art Centre. A sister site to the original Grinder in Durham Road, the new central coffee shop has given owners Michael Curtis and Riki Tsang the chance to expand their offering.

Grinder Central has opened at the new Hills Arts Centre

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Since opening the first site in September 2019, the partners have built up a loyal following thanks to their quality brews and cakes and pastries from local suppliers such as Bread& artisan bakery and Cinnabomb.

The first Grinder will remain in operation, but, at triple the size, Grinder Central has space for sit-in as well as its own kitchen facilities, meaning they can prepare more in-house dishes and increase the menu to include sandwiches, with some unusual options such as Nutella and chorizo and Nutella s’mores toasted brioche.

Michael says it’s fantastic to be part of a wave of investment in the city centre.

"I don’t think there has ever been as many changes in Sunderland as there are at the minute,” he said. “The high street hasn’t been in its best form in the past, but all the new developments are unlocking its potential.”

Grinder Coffee Co directors Michael Curtis and Riki Tsang.

Speaking about why they chose to invest in a second site, Michael said: "The feedback we’ve had from customers is that a lot of them work in the city centre but walk to us in Durham Road to get a coffee, so would like something more centrally located. People have really supported us, especially in lockdown, and it’s allowed us to invest in Sunderland.

"The former Hills store is ideal and is a fully accessible site, which we don’t have at Durham Road.”

He added: “It’s actually a really large site, spread over three floors, so was too large for most retailers. However, a multi-purpose arts space is ideal.

"I remember coming here when I was younger for stationary, it was so well-known, so it’s great to see it being put to good use once more.”

Grinder Central has its own kitchen space which will prep food for both sites

Having two shops means Michael and Riki have been able to employ a team of six, including store manager Fiona Mullen, who work between the two sites.

As well as food and drink, the site also sells gifts from local supplier Man Drawer and will be increasing its range in the coming weeks.

The coffee shop will be ideally located when the new train station, set to bring more people to the city, opens. The Riverside development, as well as housing set to be built on the Civic Centre site once it’s demolished, is also set to get more people living and working in the city centre.

The arts centre has breathed new life into the former book store, which sold its last book in 2008.

Michael Curtis started Grinder Coffee Co with partner Riki Tsang in 2019

A once iconic shop in the city which opened in 1852 in Fawcett Street before moving to Waterloo Place, 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.

*Grinder Central is open now in Hills Arts Centre, Waterloo Place. The current coffee shop opening hours are Monday to Friday 8am to 4pm and Saturdays 9am to 3pm, but they may change depending on demand.

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The new site serves lunches for sit in, or take away
Hills Arts Centre in Waterloo Place has been named in honour of the former book store, which ran on the site for decades
The new Grinder Central is triple the size of its sister site
Pink slices are, of course, on the menu
The food and drink range has expanded
You can also pick up merchandise and gift ware
In house roast