Sydney: It’s a typical Saturday afternoon and most restaurants and cafes in Sydney’s city centre are crowded as patrons spend some precious weekend moments over coffee and/or lunch. The cafes are full-up, but none are over-flowing obviously given the large number of commercial eateries in Australia’s most populous city. However, one café stands out with a serpentine queue.
Patrons enjoy their coffee and snacks an the Lindt Chocolate Cafe in Sydney on Saturday. Pics/Ashwin Ferro
The Lindt Chocolate Café at 53 Martin Place on Phillip Street reopened on Friday morning at 10am, exactly 95 days after a fatal siege that claimed the lives of barrister Katrina Dawson (38) and café manager Tori Johnson (34). On December 15 around 10 am, gunman Man Haron Monis took 18 people hostage demanding an Islamic State flag and a phone call to Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott among other things. Following a 16-hour long drama, armed forces stormed the café and in the subsequent gunfire, Monis, Dawson and Johnson lost their lives.
Smiles all around Yesterday, as SUNDAY mid-day visited the café the morning after it reopened, its patrons continued to throng by the dozens and there was no sign of terror or pain. Only smiles all around.
The serpentine queue outside the Lindt Chocolate Cafe on Saturday
Lindt Café’s retail director Alistair Keep explained why it took so long for the establishment to restart operations. “It was a very sensitive issue and we wanted to ensure that our staff was completely comfortable before resumption of services,” Keep told SUNDAY mid-day.
Reluctantly divulging details of the café, Keep added: “We have a seating capacity of 52 and staff strength of 25.”
One of the staffers, Joel Herat, who survived the siege, was not present at work on Saturday, but a day earlier, he told the Australian media that he loved working here and simply knew that he had to be back for the sake of his colleagues, who had to undergo counselling after the traumatic experience.
A staffer dips chocolate truffles in a syrup at the Lindt Chocolate Cafe in Sydney on Saturday
On Saturday, a smiling staffer, Georgia Dee, welcomed each and every patron with a free chocolate, even as customers wanting takeaways were permitted to jump the long queue leading to the entrance.
Luke Pope, who has been the café’s manager for seven years, was fortunate not to be on duty on that fateful day. “I was off that day. Whatever happened was very sad, but today everything is fine,” Pope said.
The café serves a range of modestly priced coffees, chocolates and snacks throughout the day with prices ranging from as low at AUD 2 (R96 approx) for a mini chocolate truffle to a not-very-pricey Signature Cake Tasting Platter at 28 AUD (R1356 approx). The experience, however, of having a coffee (an AUD 3.7 Capuccino: R179 approx) along with a group of people, who symbolised the commoners’ defiance against terror, was priceless.
Lindt Chocolate Café’s retail director Alistair Keep is confident that Australia will beat India in Thursday’s second World Cup semi-final at the Sydney Cricket Ground. “You’re smiling now but you won’t be when Australia beat you in the semis, mate. Australia’s going to play the final for sure and win the World Cup,” Keep told SUNDAY mid-day even as he smiled and welcomed patrons inside the establishment that opened on Friday, over three months after a gunman had taken 18 hostages siege, making global headlines. “I’ll come back for a coffee after India beat you on Thursday,” promised this correspondent. -- Ashwin Ferro