One of the iconic fixtures of Newcastle's coffee scene is on the market.
Tony Gluck, owner of Bank Corner Espresso Bar on Bellevue Street in Newcastle's west end, confirmed he has the business for sale and is offering a lease on the property.
Mr Gluck, 71, founded another famous Newcastle food institution, Goldbergs restaurant on Darby Street, in the 1980s and operated it for nine years. It still trades today.
He opened Bank Corner Espresso Bar in 2009.
He said he's been an "absentee" owner of the Bank Corner coffee cafe since he moved to the Bellingen area five years ago. Now, he's spending an increasing amount of time at a bush cabin he owns on the Upper Nymboida River, which gets no phone reception.
"I have to be realistic," Mr Gluck said. "I'm 71 and I've been doing this for a while, and loving it. But Bank Corner deserves better than what I'm giving it."
Given the difficult economic circumstances for small businesses, especially in hospitality, Mr Gluck did not anticipate much interest in the business. But he was wrong.
"I suppose there is still that certain mystique to the Bank Corner name, or whatever," he said. "I still had more interest than I expected. I didn't expect any interest at all."
Mr Gluck opened Bank Corner Espresso in 2009 after considerable renovation. He owns the Bank Corner building, and the cafe is on the same property.
"I built this one from scratch," he said. "Once again, it's a similar story because when I built Goldbergs it was a slum - it had been for lease for many years and squatters had moved in and it was old urine-soaked mattresses and syringes and god knows what.
"And this place was similar because it had a very bad tenant in there. It was a complete slum, so once again it had to be converted into something acceptable. And even desirable. I seem to enjoy those challenges."
The coffee bar proudly stands as one of the city's most cosmopolitan venues. Waiting at its service window on the street, a customer feels like they could be in Brooklyn or Barcelona. And the mood is intentional.
"I really love being in the milieu," Mr Gluck said of the spirit he intended when he built the business. "I've always loved making coffees. I'm passionate about food. I'm passionate about people, and creating spaces where people feel good."
The menu has long had a European flavour - nothing short of a miracle considering all food is made in a space less than a metre long without a stovetop, oven or microwave. Offerings include toasted flatbread piadina sandwiches, French-style omelettes, house-made muffins, vegetarian soups and salads.
The coffee has always come from boutique Sydney roaster The Madding Crowd - the only cafe it serves in the Hunter Region.
The cafe has always had an irregular schedule of music, from classical to folk, and happily has flyers advertising various community-oriented rallies and causes. It seats 60, including tables on the footpath and the courtyard. It is licensed to trade (and serve alcohol) until 10pm (midnight on Saturdays).
Even Mr Gluck is in awe at the success of the venture.
It's not one of these cookie cutter establishments that open and close all over the place. It's always been slightly fringe, slightly out there. I think that is very much part of its branding and it's important that is maintained.- Bank Corner Espresso Bar owner Tony Gluck
"It's been amazing and it has withstood the test of time, through COVID," he said.
"What really impresses me, and I've been absent for five years - an absentee owner - in that period of time it has continued to prosper, which I can only say, is a very much a reflection on the quality of Hamish [Macdonald], my manager, whose put in a great innings, absolutely fantastic, and his ability to pick top staff. Every time I'm there I'm impressed by the staff he's put together, and the whole spirit of the place. They have a spring in their step, they seem to enjoy the space and enjoy the customers.
"The other thing I've been impressed with is actually the customers, and the customer loyalty, they just seem to keep coming back."
The x-factor at Bank Corner is a combination of location, staff, food, and coffee, and clientele. All up, it paints a European, Bohemian vibe that's unique.
"There is something really different about Bank Corner," Mr Gluck said. "It's not one of these cookie cutter establishments that open and close all over the place. It's always been slightly fringe, slightly out there. I think that is very much part of its branding and it's important that is maintained.
"It comes down to staff, music we play, just the way we interact with our customers. I just think there is a special way that Bank Corner does that. And I think it's very important that is maintained. Bank Corner is a bit of a cultural oasis in the cafe scene.
"You can get great coffee in many places in Newcastle - Newcastle has come a long way with its coffee. But to get the mix of a great coffee and an interesting cultural vibe is not so easy to find. As I said, that's part of what we have there."
While it has been successful as a morning-to-lunchtime venue, Mr Gluck is convinced its future is at night.
"As a space, I think it really expresses its full personality at night," he said. "It's really quite charming. The courtyard has a big chandelier hanging from the sky. It's just waiting for somebody to take it into the nighttime economy. Especially now that that area has such a high residential population. You know in Europe, when you go out for dinner, you just go downstairs."
Mr Gluck said there is plenty of potential for a new operator with "passion and imagination".
"There is some scope for expansion... a new tenant could build a commercial kitchen in the courtyard," Mr Gluck said. "There is scope for expansion, not only using the space differently but also using the DA-approved hours into the night, and also using the various liquor licences we have. So there is substantial room for movement there."
But, he's willing to wait for the right person.
"I'm not in a hurry to hand this off,," Mr Gluck said. "I'm going to take my time, because it's really about finding the right person. It's not about closing a deal, and finding someone with the money. It has to go into the right hands. Somebody who understands the place. Someone with passion and imagination."
The business is advertised for lease with a rent of $750 per week.