Culture //

What happened to WellCo?

Zoe talked to one person and called it an investigation

At the start of the month, WellCo Cafe mysteriously closed.

WellCo, an institution on the south end of Glebe Point Road, visited by USyd students dependent on coffee and cake to even approach the thought of studying, shut its cute red wooden door on 1 July.

“WellCo Cafe will be out of business after Sunday…Thank you for everything,” read a chalk-drawn sign out front.

Michael Koziol, a reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald and former editor of Honi, wrote a eulogy for the Cafe on 8 July.

“It will be honoured here, in print, if it’s the last thing I do,” Koziol wrote, in an outpouring of nostalgia.

“Well Connected Cafe opened in the mid-90s as Sydney’s first internet cafe,” Koziol explained.

By the time I started at USyd, it wasn’t particularly well connected—to the internet or to the present. The wifi was temperamental and, in a city where cafe culture is characterised by cold drip and cold brew, WellCo specialised in a bowl of chips.

Mourners took to social media, starting teary threads in the comments section of the article.

But then, a few days after Koziol published his piece, a new sign appeared.

“Well Connected Cafe is closed for renovations for the next few weeks—looking forward to seeing you soon!”

So what the fuck is going on with WellCo?

Tom, the former owner, cleared the mystery up for me.

Six months ago, he did a bit of research and found that he was paying roughly three times the market rent. Tom declined to say how much he was paying. John, the owner before Tom, who sold the business to Tom last September, said that he was paying approximately $3000/week plus GST, with a 5 per cent increase each year.

When Tom raised the issue with the landlord, “he basically responded, ‘I don’t want to lower my rent because this place is my goldmine,’” Tom said.

Tom didn’t want to sign onto a lease at that price for the contract term of three years, and the landlord wasn’t willing to renegotiate, so around three months ago Tom decided to sell the business.

He said that he wanted to pass WellCo onto a new owner, “because we feel insecure on the street, because the people-flow on the street is not as stable as what it was before Broadway reopened” in August 2016. According to John, sales dropped by approximately 20 per cent after the $55 million revamp.

Honi understands that Tom was in the process of selling the business when the landlord evicted him with no explanation. Neither Tom nor the landlord provided Honi with a clear explanation to as why the landlord made this decision.

“He didn’t say anything initially to kick us out,” Tom said. In June, “we asked, ‘Can we get somebody else to sign the original contract for the three years?’ and he said, ‘No, I don’t want anybody else.’”

“If we sell it that means WellCo will be passed on. And then he refused [to allow the sale]. And that means basically he wants to kick WellCo out of the market.”

Honi understands that the building might open as a cafe, but it wouldn’t be WellCo.

When I spoke to the landlord, an old man with hunched shoulders and different coloured eyes, he told me that WellCo had closed and that he didn’t know if it would reopen.

“At the moment I can’t give any information,” he added, and closed the door.