Cooks pool resources at Newtown kitchen collective

Collective cooks: Alex Paduano from The Jam Bandits, Stuart Masters from Miss Lilly's Kitchen, Libby Marriner from ...
Collective cooks: Alex Paduano from The Jam Bandits, Stuart Masters from Miss Lilly's Kitchen, Libby Marriner from Cookies + Milk, and Steve Webb from Edible Kids Gardens. Photo: Brianne Makin

When Libby Marriner posted an ad on Gumtree asking for some people to share her Newtown property, she wasn't looking to fill one of the area's many student sharehouses.

 She was offering a space in the kitchen of her new - and very large - shop on south King Street; an area where 100 square metres of  commercial premises sell for more than  $1 million, and are, unfortunately, often found on the market again a short time later.

"We can't change the reality of real estate prices in Sydney, but you've got closures up and down King Street every day. So, maybe it's time to think about a more creative solution," Marriner says.

Sour cherry and cinnamon pie from Miss Lilly's Kitchen.
Sour cherry and cinnamon pie from Miss Lilly's Kitchen. Photo: Brianne Makin

The result is South on King Kitchen Collective, a shared space for foodmakers - and, at present, some gardeners - to work in a collaborative space. 

The collective is five strong and members  are more likely to be referred to by their wares than their names. 

There's Cookies + Milk, owned by Marriner ("the cookie girl"), Miss Lilly's Kitchen, owned by Stuart Masters ("the pie guy"), The Jam Bandits, owned by Alex Paduano ("the jam guy"), Bluepress Juice, owned by Alexandra Seitam ("the juice girl"), as well as the guys from Edible Kids Gardens (who are referred to as "the hairy woodsmen").

The results of the collective creativity are for sale at the front of the shop. 

While the line-up has varied slightly since Marriner first put out the call early last year, (a few groups have passed through, including pay-what-you-feel restaurant Lentil as Anything  which used the space while searching for a permanent location), she believes the current group is a good one.

"It's taken us 12 months to find the right people," Marriner says.

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The question is: how does it work?

Everyone has an area in the property's spacious kitchen and storage area but it's a shared space. "So, if you're not using it, someone else might," Marriner says.

They take turns cleaning and everyone shares resources.

"We barter a lot," Marriner says. "It's surprisingly free of the typical housemate problems."

"From the beginning, I didn't want to start a space where there were jars in the kitchen labelled 'don't eat my lunch', and we've managed to not need to have those discussions."

Masters says he was "close to breaking point" running Miss Lilly's Kitchen without the finances for a physical store.

"I worked in temp kitchens in Ultimo for a while," he says. "You go in one or two days, but you take everything in with you, and then have to take everything back out again. So I had storage at Kennards, storage on my balcony…"

Marriner adds that having support can help small business owners to get through their day-to-day tasks.

"There's little stuff. The other day Stu had to go out and source some supplies, but he had a delivery coming as well. Now, if you're working on your own, you can't do that. But here, it wasn't a big deal."

They also benefit from each other's expertise and experience. Seitam's background is in marketing, Paduano's is in design, while Masters worked in catering kitchens before deciding to pursue his pies full time.

"It's not competitive in a bad way," Marriner says. "But, when you see someone doing something really well you think, 'Right, I should lift my game.'"

They  are also able to increase their reach and resources by retailing together. Cookies + Milk and Miss Lilly's Kitchen put on a joint stall at the markets at Hyde Park Barracks last year, and the group joined forces to put on a workshop at a Christmas market.

"Not to be too parochial, but it's a real Newtown thing," Marriner says.

"Commercial endeavours in the past were seen as very private but these days if you have a bit of a community aspect, it's just easier."

South on King Kitchen Collective, 531 King Street, Newtown. Open Tue-Sat 9am-5pm, Sun 10am-4pm.