The experience of living above a cafe
Rose Ottavi-Kokkoris did not expect to find herself living above her North Hobart cafe, but it’s all part of the adventure of family life and it has definite advantages
T he Italian community has long called North Hobart home, with eateries on the restaurant strip and the iconic Italian Club with its annual Festa Italia event. Then there’s Patanella, the corner cafe operated by longtime local Rose Ottavi-Kokkoris, who lives above her cafe with her children Georgia, 16, Steffi, 13, and Julius, 11.
Rose’s living situation was neither planned or expected – rather, it is the result of challenges the mother and small-business owner has faced in the past few years.
On our Monday visit, the Argyle St cafe is closed and Rose is enjoying her first “weekend” since it opened in 2015. She has just stopped trading on Sundays, after two years of working six days a week.
“Some things are more important than work and money,” she says. “And now I’ve got more time for my family. It’s worth every cent.”
The family of four occupies three upstairs bedrooms, with the downstairs cafe used as the family dining and lounge room when closed, and the commercial kitchen meeting their cooking needs.
Vintage furniture fills the cafe space, which also displays the collection of kitsch and knick-knacks Rose has collected since she was eight.
“I literally emptied my house into this cafe,” she says. “This is my dining table, that’s my lounge suite. Everything here is from my house.”
As a result, the cafe is a charming manifestation of Rose’s creative personality and love of nostalgia, set off by a vintage terrazzo floor and matching, modernist staircase. As she speaks, her 84-year-old mother Eulalia sits quietly on the couch with her eyes closed, completing the homely scene.
Rose and her family previously lived in a three-bedroom semi-detached house next to her childhood home, not far from the cafe. She bought her half of the conjoined house from her parents in 2008.
Personal and financial circumstances later led to the “devastating” threat of bankruptcy and loss of a house that had been in the family for decades. Rose moved her family out of their treasured home, which is now rented out, establishing her new cafe as a newly single mum on a shoestring budget.
One of two tattoos on Rose’s forearms reveals a simple knife, fork and spoon, representing the cutlery allocated to her late father, Teodino Ottavi, when he started work at the Hydro-Electric Commission in the 1950s. The other tattoo features a strongman on a unicycle juggling a house, coffee cup and heart, symbolising her roles as home owner, entrepreneur and parent.
Rose says living and working at the same address is practically essential to keeping everything in the air.
“Trying to get the [kids] ready for school in the morning would be virtually impossible if I had to leave the building,” she says. “I work really hard down here, but as soon as the door is shut, it becomes our space.”
Rose has been “overwhelmed” by the support of her community of friends and customers over the past two years, as well as the kindness of the broader community that raised the $17,000 needed to save her house. While her goal of moving back into her own home may still be some time off, Rose has many blessings to count along the way. And as long as she’s living and working at North Hobart with the people she loves around her, she’s always at home.
“It’s lucky, because I actually bloody love it here,” she says.