Café turned Coworking Space: The tale behind the Sydney Harbour Bridge Warehouses

You probably don’t know this, but we actually started as a little coffee shop and the coworking idea came to us when some curious regulars ventured upstairs and inadvertently said to a random guy sitting at his desk, “Cool office, do you lease it out?”

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How our laneway came to be and, it’s not all about us.

At present, we operate from 6 conjoined warehouses within the foundations of the Sydney Harbour Bridge but there’s about a hundred odd years of history before us, so we’re going to take you back all the way to 1923 and show you the way from there.

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1923

Here is a long-winded tale that has too long been overshadowed by the bridge

To make way for the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the engineers needed to lay some foundations down and that included the making of the Northern warehouses propped under the railway. They’d house the men and machinery used to construct the bridge; steel would be fabricated and passed through the archways towards the harbour (those same archways we admire here today). 

Records tell us that the warehouse structure remains untouched but for the glazed bay windows and concrete flooring added post-bridge completion. At the same time, car dealers parked up in the bays making use of the cheap rent, open space, and handy location. Throughout the century, this industrial strip was utilised by car dealers, mechanics, and public services such as the North Sydney Highway Patrol and the State Emergency Service. That was until developer and soon-to-be Work inc founder, Mark Davidson, spotted an abandoned, leaky warehouse laying waste on the side of the highway.

A vision to become the troll under the bridge

After escaping from the corporate world, Mark started a company of his own and went on the hunt for an office space to house his team and show his company’s unique identity. Mark saw a special work home materialising from Bay 10, but he’d have to build it himself.

Taking over the lease in 2011, Mark got busy turning the abandoned warehouse into something that would truly inspire himself, his team, and his clients. Low resting roof tiles, fluorescent lights, and grimy toilet cubicles were replaced by a floating glassy office pod furnished with local art, vintage couches, and a chandelier signalling to passing cars. A new troll was under the bridge and he was there to shake things up.

It didn’t take long for the folks in the office to begin grumbling over coffee. Back then there was no café with a decent cup of Joe anywhere close to the laneway. We had cranky entrepreneurs. But they got creative.

In anyone else’s mind, this dilemma would be solved by a pod machine in the communal kitchen but that wasn’t enough for seasoned problem solvers. If they had the complaint, then that meant neighbours would be bemoaning the same thing. They needed a coffee cart, but they built a café instead.

2011

To honour the heritage of the space they needed something that would be raw, honest, and recycled.

A café made from an upcycled shipping container with a narcotic past

One evening, Mark shared his new vision for a coffee cart with his mates, one which included a cop. Knowing Mark’s imaginative ways, he mentioned a shipping container the police had just de-commissioned. Seized for smuggling 600kg of pseudoephedrine into Australian borders, the police were willing to auction off the shipping container. It came at a bargain. 

Serving up specialty pick-me-ups that wouldn’t land you in the jailhouse, Bay Ten Espresso opened its roller doors to the public in the Spring of 2014 with the narcotic shipping container taking centre stage as the barista station.

It was the first chance Sydney had a glimpse inside one of these historic warehouses. Locals would take a seat, sip a latte, and admire the walls layered with scrawled handwriting from decades past. 

2014

Lavender Bay locals turned into regulars then into family

The whole neighbourhood fell in love with the space, as well as the misfit crew behind the counter rocking away to their own beat. But some became more curious of the loft that floated above the container and began asking about sharing office space, and it was then that Mark thought to act on this desire, again. In the beginning it was a couple of desks for a young tech startup amongst the well-versed mavericks. And there was a synergy. Ideas, advice, and support was passed back and forth. It was unexpected. 

A coworking space made for the people

Next door in Bay 9, things were looking a little quieter as the workshop established by Aussie motorsport legend, Arthur Rizzo, shut up shop after a solid 48 years. Taking on another lease in another warehouse, Mark, thought to mimic the environment they’d created in the office of Bay 10 but on a much broader scale and it would take a three week trip for him to learn from the World’s best coworking spaces. The fit out had to be conducive of creativity, transparency, collaboration, but also allow for the privacy that business needs. 

“Your standard office is a dead zone for creativity and says nothing about your culture or identity. The physical space is equally important to building a business. You have these soaring heritage walls, light flooding in through windows that are a century old and a real sense of the guts and determination that Sydney mustered to span a harbour with a bridge. Couple that with an encyclopedic array of individuals working on their business dream and you can’t go wrong.”

– Founder, Mark Davidson

An upended shipping container would be a nod to neighbouring Bay Ten Espresso, acting as the elevator to take members up the three storeys. They had developed 22 office pods and in no time, they were filled, and the café was under the pump. A collective community had been created in the laneway that the world had forgotten about.

2015

2020

Work inc expanded to sit next to the million-dollar cars

It took a lot of side-eye and nudges but soon the RMS trucks were relocated from the adjoining bays and Work inc was settling into Bays 6, 7 and 8 with two epic murals from New Zealand-born artist, Gina Kiel, giving members something to smile about over morning catchups.

By 2020, a labyrinth home to 550 brilliant minds filled the space spanning from Bay 10 all the way to Bay 5, now side by side with the million-dollar cars on show at the Classic Throttle Shop. And, what a great place to be; Bugattis, McLarens, Ferraris drifting past the office each day.

The past may be just a story but damn it’s a good one

Nine years have past since driving by that lonely, dishevelled warehouse and now, people recognise the warehouses for the famous chandeliers adorned in each front window of the Work inc bays. Beginning with one office to inspire a team, no one could have foreseen that 100 businesses would come to inspire each other here every day.

Not just a rich past but a lush future, Work inc remains stoic for the misfits that have dared to ditch the security of 9 to 5 to start something great as did Mark. It’s here for the courage, and determination that it takes to succeed while in the face of adversity. Its team is backed by the deep understanding that entrepreneurship can be unglamorous but well worth the pluck and hustle when it means working towards that burning idea that you just can’t get out of your head. Down to its foundations, Work inc is the place where good ideas come to grow.

now

The Timeline

1923

Construction began to build the north and south approaches to the bridge – AKA birth of our warehouses.

1924

Bridge construction began in earnest. Railway land where what is now Luna Park used as the main fabrication plant and our Middlemiss St. & Ennis Rd. warehouses used as supplementary steel workshops.

1928

Sydney began to see an outline of the main arch being erected.

1930

Both halves of the arch finally resting on each other (with a giant sigh of relief from the project’s engineers).

19 March, 1932

After 8 years, and over 2000 workers the Sydney Harbour Bridge was complete and officially open.

1930s

Car salesmen setting up dealerships in all 10 warehouses of Middlemiss Street.

1937

Addition of Kirribilli Hotel and North Sydney Olympic Pool to the area.

1960s

Revitalisation of North Sydney as extension of Sydney CBD.

1961

Mechanic, Quixspede Automotive established in Bay 2 and are still operating out of the warehouse to this day.

1966

Legend of Australian motorsports, Arthur Rizzo, establishes own mechanic workshop out of Bay 9

1994 – 2010

State Emergency Services use Bay 10 as headquarters with training facility, vehicle parking and equipment storage.

2003

Classic Throttle Shop moves into abandoned warehouses of Bays 3 & 4 for an ultra-high-end car showroom.

2011

Work inc founder, Mark Davidson, takes over Bay 10 lease to build his dream office making use of the remnant mezzanine from the Highway Patrol.

March 2014

Arthur Rizzo Motors shuts down (café employees next door would soon use empty Bay 9 for parking).

7:03am 14 October 2014

First flat white sold at opening of Bay Ten Espresso.

2015

Bay 9 offices open to public with new tenants joining the family; including Kasada, Pod Tracker, City Swoon & A-HA! A Human Agency.

2016

RMS vacate Bay 6-8 and Work inc begins plans for another expansion, but they’ll have to fit out three warehouses at once.

2017

Opening three bays at once, Work inc becomes home to 450 entrepreneurs each striving in their own lane.

2019

After 50 years in the hands of mechanic’s, EM’s Northshore Automotive resigns and it’s time for another Work inc expansion.

February 2020

New members move into Work inc’s most luxurious coworking offices and celebrate Bay 5’s opening with morning mimosas.

And the story goes on…

An illicit affair… Learn more about the notorious past of our shipping container

See the history for yourself, come explore the space and take up a spot in our offices