It started off with a farmer and a teacher who were big enough risk takers to take a punt on an old milk factory in Maffra, and it paid off.
They say that people make the place, and this couldn’t be truer than in Maffra – a town of less than 5,000 people east of Melbourne in Gippsland, about 20 kilometres north of Sale on the banks of the Macalister River.
It was the people of Maffra who mattered most when it came to Nicky and Lashay’s decision to transform an iconic 1920’s building into a local brewery, and it was the people who helped them make it happen.
Beef farmer Nicky Reeves and Maffra Secondary College teacher Lashay Tricker are the Maffra locals behind the Maffco Brewery and Taphouse.
'We thought, why not make local beer, local produce and bring everybody together,' Nicky says.
The community did come together and helped with the huge restoration project. Not only was the building 100 years old, but it was decaying, underutilised and crying out to be restored to its former glory.
'This is a beautiful building that we’ve been eyeing off for a few years to do something with,' Lashay says.
There is something about the Maffco building that makes you stop and stare and it’s not the sheer size of it. The external brick walls are about 12 metres high and 30 metres long. It sticks out – sitting on a large, flat block of land. But it’s not that either.
It’s the quiet dignity of the building and a knowing feeling of everything it must have witnessed over time – the people, the stories and the memories.
'We’ve had people come in with pictures saying ‘Oh Dad used to work here or my Mum, my Nanna worked here’. So many people have a tie to this building in the community,' Nicky says.
The building was designed by Maffra-based architect Stephen Percy Ashton who was part of the Ashton family, who worked as builders and architects in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, on projects across Gippsland.
'Maffco was originally the Willsmere Milk Factory – it was built in 1922 with some backing by the Fosters which is a large settlement family from Boisdale. It set up and ran as Willsmere for three years before transitioning to the Commonwealth Milk Company,' Lashay says.
Lashay says it went through a couple more hands and in 1954 was sold to dairy manufacturer Nestles. Most recently, it was used as a farm supplies business.
Its restoration was a huge job. Nicky and Lashay brought in local tradespeople and a host of local volunteers and got the restoration over the line in less than a year to be able to host their first event in November, a friend’s wedding.
More than 8,000 bricks were cleaned and reused during the restoration, along with tin and timber materials salvaged from the factory’s sheds. Reclaimed timber was used to make the venue’s bar and furniture.
Maffco now features a craft brewery using local hops to create beers, sours and ciders. It also features a distillery for gin, vodka and rum, as well as a function space and restaurant. Thanks to the venue’s space, Maffco has the capacity for hundreds of patrons both inside and outside on its landscaped grounds.
Drawing in crowds from across Victoria, the venue’s popularity continues to grow with regular music gigs, live performances, private functions, sold out events and the first Gippsland makers market, hosted at Maffco in June.
Maffco has employed eight full time staff and its paddock to plate restaurant features locally sourced produce, including beef from Nicky’s farm.
'We’ve definitely created lots of local jobs. Every single tradesperson that we employed, except for in the cool rooms, came from Maffra or came from the local area. So, there was a lot of money invested back into the town,' Lashay says.
'We’ve got a real strong focus on local produce. We know that the community’s very proud of what we’ve put together and what they’ve helped put together.'
And the building itself, which is a magnificent example of early 20th century industrial development, has been restored.
It could have been a very different story. The building has no heritage protections meaning it could have been knocked down by new owners, and it nearly was.
Nicky and Lashay said the previous owners were approached by developers wanting to knock the building down for its heritage bricks which are estimated to be valued at millions. But, just like Nicky and Lashay, they were inspired to restore it.
'People in our community are just fantastic with how they’ll give you a go. All you need is an opportunity, and this is the result,' Nicky says.
Whether it’s the solid brick walls, the subtle light from the original windows, the simplicity of the structure – you can’t quite put your finger on it. It’s big but it’s graceful and there’s a character and atmosphere that will make you want to stay and come back again.
It’s as if the memories and the people who made them have been brought back to life. And now, Maffra has a place for new memories.
Maffco Taphouse and Brewery has been supported by the Victorian Government.
For more information, visit Maffco Brewery.