Jamie Bellas, owner, Jamie’s Espresso Bar

I think good words to describe what makes a community include diversity, acceptance, opportunity, positivity, interaction, generosity and sacrifice.

Over the past 18 years, Brisbane has changed dramatically. Apartments, cafes, bars, restaurants and precincts have popped out of industrial wastelands and unused spaces. What were once places void of any human activity have sprung from nowhere and transformed into bustling urban villages. Jamie Bellas started Jamie’s Espresso Bar back in 1997, at a time when what is now the James Street precinct did not exist! What once was Brisbane’s first tiny hole-in-the wall espresso bar has grown to become an iconic meeting place for Brisbane’s creatives. Designers, architects, tech geeks, baristas, students, entrepreneurs and folks of all persuasions gather regularly to share their morning ritual and reinvent the future of Brisbane and the world. In fact, I think that even the crew who dreamt up James Street discussed for many months their plans for the new precinct while sipping on a flat white at Jamie’s. It is Jamie’s personal style and laid-back nature that attracts the crowd who look for inspiration in the organic subtleties of the space rather then the refined detail. He was the true original, the one who dared to start something that hadn’t been done before and follow his dream. Jamie’s Espresso Bar wasn’t a copy of anything rather a place inspired by his own needs, and that dream has remained consistent. Whether it’s the graffiti, milk crates, or the art that acts as the catalyst, Jamie’s is a space where quiet reflection or inspiration can occur at anytime. Brisbane has changed for the better thanks to Jamie’s Espresso Bar. It’s original and one of a kind.

When you started Jamie’s on Robertson Street it was an industrial area. James Street didn’t even exist as a precinct! What gave you the inspiration to start?
My parents owned an art gallery above my shop. They used to have to go all the way up to Cosmopolitan Coffee in the Valley Mall to get a cup of coffee. How times have changed. They asked me if I’d like to open a cafe downstairs and the rest is history. I was never meant to do this job. It just happened.

Many people love Jamie’s. What do you think makes Jamie’s Espresso Bar so special?
The shop layout sets the scene but it’s the people that makes Jamie’s special. Both my customers and my staff make it. An energy flow just keeps the place rolling along and many special things happen there each day. It is a very natural place where interaction comes easily without being pushed. A lot of people feel comfortable in the shop, whether interacting with friends and strangers or just chilling out and enjoying their own company. People relax.

How would you like to see James Street develop in the future?
I think what makes James Street are the small businesses that add a unique character to the area. The owners and staff involved with shops like dig, 20/20, Camargue, Calexico, Easton Pearson, Blonde Venus, Molten Store, Tyson and Peppa and Phoebe Stevens Flowers all add to a unique precinct. It would be great if these shops continue to thrive and are joined by other unique shops.

What makes a community?
I think good words to describe what makes a community include diversity, acceptance, opportunity, positivity, interaction, generosity and sacrifice.

We consider you a changemaker for our city – as we believe you have created an original space for people to congregate and discuss. Many ideas have been born from your creation. Do you think you have created change in Brisbane?
I don’t consider myself a changemaker. I feel more like a contributer. I have created a place for people.

Who do you consider a changemaker in Brisbane?
I think many of the real changemakers in Brisbane are unsung heroes. I have great admiration for people who are committed to improving other people’s lives, for instance those who help new migrants get established in our city. This type of change has a ripple effect in our community. As new families feel at home in Brisbane, they have the opportunity to enjoy our city and make their own contributions to our community.

What has been your greatest challenge in keeping Jamie’s operating?
I think my greatest challenges are ahead. Will Jamie’s exist in the future? Who knows?

What is your hope for the future of Jamie’s?
I hope that my shop can carry on in a similar way, and continue to be a welcoming place where people enjoy themselves.

What’s a question you would love to be asked in an interview and what is your answer?
Who would you like to partner in a mixed doubles tennis match? Answer: Serena Williams.

Favourite meal? Crumbed veal and spaghetti.
Favourite author? Jonathan Foer.
Favourite artist? Brendan Smith.
Your idea of misery? I feel very fortunate to say I have never experienced true misery.
Your idea of happiness? The birth of my first child in two weeks time.

This interview is part of the City ChangeMakers presented by The Weekend Edition – a series about the people who have helped shape and change Brisbane for the better.


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