A former chippie made use of his skills when refurbishing a 19th-century grain store in the recently gentrified suburb of Newcastle East, NSW. By Kerryn Ramsey
Timing was critical when Corey Crooks (with his wife Kristy) leased a former grain-and-keg storage facility in Newcastle’s historic East End. While the space had been run as a restaurant/live music space for many years, it had also more recently stood derelict. As a former carpenter, Crooks could see the possibility of a quick refurbishment and opening of his proposed Grain Store Craft Beer Cafe.
He was so confident, he even agreed to host a charity event just 30 days after taking possession of the property. A friend was involved with a Brisbane-to-Sydney bike ride raising awareness and funds for motor neurone disease.
“I was planning to have the renovation completed by mid-April  so the event on 15 May should have been fine,” says Crooks. “But there were quite a few hold-ups, including the delayed delivery of stainless steel to complete the back bar.”
Despite the hiccups, he used the charity event as an absolute deadline. “We managed to have the place finished just in time, first opening our doors at 4pm the day prior,” he recalls.
After working as a carpenter in the early ’90s, Crooks was just 22 years old when he took on a leasehold of Newcastle’s Oriental Hotel, then moved onto various Sydney venues. Returning to his hometown of Newcastle in 2002, he moved into the role as licensee of the Albion Hotel in Wickham, followed by The Grain Store Craft Beer Cafe in 2013.
As a driven project manager, Crooks had no fear converting the sterile establishment into a warm, casual destination suitable for any occasion.
With the original Art Deco exterior and high ceilings, the craft beer cafe celebrates the colourful history of the grain store that was built by JT Toohey (of Tooheys Brewery) in 1885.
“This is relevant to what we do regarding our beers but that’s where the association ends as we proudly pour 100-per-cent Australian-owned beers today,” says the hospitality pioneer who also offers Hunter Valley wines and small-batch spirits. “We also offer as much local produce we can get our hands on,” says Crooks.
The 20-plus taps are backlit behind the 12-metre-long terrazzo bar while a restored railway platform board displays the beers currently on tap. “There’s 21 slots on those railway signs and we have 21 taps.”
An array of vintage and quirky elements—a set of scales from a local factory, industrial lights, post lamps, hanging planters and comfy lounges—add a casual feel to the expansive warehouse. For continuity, Crooks had custom tabletops made by Sean Magillray of oneknottwo [www.facebook.com/Oneknottwo/].
“Our vision is to create an extension of people’s lounge rooms,” says Crooks. “It feels as comfortable sitting on a couch here as it would when entertaining guests in your own home.”