The new Two Before Ten cafe at the Aranda shops is the first step in Chris Dennis' vision that will turn a derelict suburban shopping centre into a community hub complete with a bar, a pizzeria, yoga studios, and offices.
It all started because Mr Dennis, who owns Two Before Ten, was looking for a new place to relocate his popular coffee roasting house.
Two Before Ten had to move from its spot in Hobart Place in Civic after the redevelopment of the Canberra Club building in 2014. Mr Dennis wanted to move the roasting operation to the suburbs and was offered the Aranda shops site by owners Nicole and Gabriel Gaha, who were regulars at Two Before Ten.
"If you put the roasters in then you really should put a cafe in, because it's there," he said. And then, of course, there was space next door to the cafe that could be turned into a little reading room and library where people could sit with a coffee and work on their laptops. And next door to that was another shopfront that would be perfect as a casual bar.
"[The Gahas] wanted to do something because obviously it's been derelict … and in decline for 10 years," he said. "We started talking about doing something and - perhaps us just helping get people into it and then that turned into signing over the whole project to us."
As the plan stands now, the Two Before Ten cafe takes up one corner of the building, with plenty of outdoor seating. Next door is the coffee roasters and next to that is a library and reading room with couches, chairs and a massive photograph of former prime minister Robert Menzies at the inauguration of Lake Burley Griffin, which Mr Dennis discovered among the detritus in the shop.
After hours, the library will become the lounge area for the new Bolt Bar which will open in mid March on the other corner of the building - a bar which Mr Dennis describes as a cross between Edgar's in Ainslie and the Wig and Pen. There'll be a beer garden. On the lower level of the building, where a supermarket used to be, there are plans for a big yoga studio with rooms attached for therapists to practice massage, naturopathy and other arts.
"This is amazing because it's big enough that you can do a few things but at the same time it's not big enough to have a weak link, so all the businesses have to be at the same level, the same sort of theme," he said.
The lower level will also play host to a pizzeria with an outdoor terrace, serving up pizzas, pastas and wine.
"The little hook for the pizzeria is that the wine list will all be takeaway, effectively. All the food is reasonably priced and the wine list is $10 to $1000," Mr Dennis said. "We'll just do tasting notes, people will pick their wine, pour it and what they don't use they'll be able to take away. So [we'll] keep it super, super relaxed."
Upstairs, under the huge pitched roof of the building on Bandjalong Crescent, is a loft-style space which Mr Dennis plans to turn into "transition" offices for creative professionals who are just starting out and need a place to work, such as furniture designers or architects. He's working with the University of Canberra to design the space.
Two Before Ten's attempt to bring the shops back to life haven't gone unnoticed and the Aranda community have rallied around the local project. Mr Dennis' sparky lives in Cook. An IT professional from Aranda offered his time and equipment to set up the free Wi-Fi. A woman from the neighbourhood sewed curtains out of coffee sacks so there would be privacy for the regular life drawing classes held in the library. There's even a Twitter account for the shopping centre - run by a man who lives down the road.
"It's been pretty amazing," Mr Dennis admits.