A few years ago, a corner shop in the heart of the Vietnamese shops on Illawarra Rd in Marrickville started to change. Everyone watched with interest at what would happen to the old tailor shop with the window that hadn’t been cleaned in years. Slowly it was cleaned up and a very understated sign saying ‘Cornersmith’ was put up.

The day after the sign went up, the owners found that a brick had been thrown through the front window and someone had spray painted ‘Fuck Off Yuppies’ on the shiny new façade.

The attack on Cornersmith was a real statement for long-time residents. It embodied the harsher side of Marrickville that had kept these kinds of businesses away for so long. It was also a show of solidarity with the businesses that had contributed so much to the growth of Marrickville and were now being pushed out for the café-set.

It might seem harsh, but it’s hard to feel sorry for Cornersmith. Despite those initial attacks, it has flourished in Marrickville, winning countless awards for its unique take on sustainable food. Owner James Grant watched the area change and waited for the moment when he felt Marrickville was ‘finally ready for the soy latte’.

However, the story of Cornersmith often fails to acknowledge that ethnic run business have been the foundation for the area’s outstanding café culture for over three decades. Whether it was hordes of high-school students looking for Vietnamese iced coffee or old men trading gossip and cigarettes over strong Arabic coffee, Marrickville has always had a unique take on the cafés that set it apart from the rest of Sydney. With those businesses closing, those experiences being lost, you start to wonder whether Cornersmith and soy-lattes really make Marrickville unique or more generic.

Listen to our interview with Cornersmith owner James Grant.