• About 300 First Nations trainees came through Charcoal Lane's kitchen over the past 12 years. (SBS)Source: SBS
Melbourne fine-dining restaurant and social enterprise Charcoal Lane will close its doors permanently on September 16.
Keira Jenkins

14 Aug 2021 - 9:06 AM  UPDATED 14 Aug 2021 - 9:06 AM

Charcoal Lane in Melbourne's Fitzroy has been combining fine dining with training programs for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people since it was established in 2009.

But this week it was announced that it will permanently close its doors on September 16, to make way for the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service (VAHS) to take up the space on Gertrude Street.

Over the past 12 years, more than 300 First Nations people have completed training in hospitality at the restaurant. 

Bar manager Jon Paul Campbell-Madgwick went through the training in 2018, and said it's given him confidence and skills he needed to work in the industry, and instilled a love of food and a deeper knowledge of its role in culture.

He said it's a bittersweet situation.

"It's sad that it will be coming to an end but at the same time, it's at least going to be another good cause to help the community," he told NITV News.

"... Especially in the times we're in now, with COVID going on there's definitely a necessity for a health service."

'Our stomping ground'

VAHS originally occupied the space in Gertrude Street from 1979 until the 1990s. 

Charcoal Lane may have 'breathed new life' into the space when they opened in 2009, after a period of the building being empty, but now, with the health service's staff numbers growing and the COVID-19 pandemic still impacting our communities VAHS general manager Gavin Brown said it is time for VAHS to take over the space once more.

"It is our stomping ground and it is traditionally a meeting place and continues to be so," he said.

"We just get this air of vibrancy when we go there and know the building will attract our people back because of the history and the role it's played in their life."

When VAHS moves in, Mr Brown said they'll be offering their usual health services to First Nations people in Melbourne, and hopes the community will support them as the service moves back in.

"We want people to come into VAHS, feel safe and be able to be offered whatever services and programs or just a cup of tea like we used to when we were in the building before," he said.

"It's really important to have all those aspects."

While Charcoal Lane, which has been run by Mission Australia for the past 12 years, is closing, that doesn't mean opportunities for young First Nations people should end.

Mission Australia's Troy Credlin said it is now time for the hospitality industry as a whole to think about how they can build from the success of Charcoal Lane.

"People often ask me where is the next charcoal lane going to be," he said.

"Well, we’re all responsible for that aren’t we?

"[The responsibility] doesn’t just rest with Mission Australia and VAHS, it rests with all of us in hospitality in the future."

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