MAYBE IT’S THE GO WITH THE FLOW EFFECT OF LIVING AND WORKING BESIDE THE YARRA RIVER THAT MAKES DEMIAN AND VICTORIA GIBBINS EXPERTS AT CALMLY JUGGLING A BUSY RESTAURANT AND FOUR YOUNG CHILDREN. OR SIMPLY THAT THE CREATIVE AND ENTERPRISING OWNERS OF THE ESPRESSONIST HAVE LEARNED TO SAIL THROUGH THE SQUALLS THAT FATE OCCASIONALLY THROWS THEIR WAY.
Photography by Tim Carrafa
Life for this couple isn’t black and white. It’s multi-hued, multi-layered and unpredictable. But then, having four children tends to throw certainty out the window.
Covid took them deeper into uncharted territory, sounding the death knell for their Joint endeavour, Lorimer Gallery, which had served as a catalyst for a cultural quarter within Yarra’s Edge.
The upside has been that all their creative energy has been poured into The Espressonist where their ‘renaissance wall’ is a reminder of the gallery past without which the Demian and Victoria love story and their wonderfully boisterous family of four children might never have happened.
It all began when Demian took a sabbatical from his work as a defence technology engineer to go back into the studio and see if art was a viable career option. He was young, had no responsibilities and it was the obvious time to take risks.
“I was this single young person spending time in board meetings,” explains Demian. “My professional career was dry and I needed colour in my life.”
“I started to spend a lot of time back in the studio and decided to give myself a sabbatical that turned into a fully fledged art practice.”
It was during the first six months of his sabbatical that Damien met Victoria and one thing eventually led to another.
“She came along to see my studio and bought some of my art,” says Demian. “I needed an assistant so I hired her because she knew more about art than I did. We fell in love during the project; most people knew we were an item before we did.”
Just as he was finding his artistic chops, Mirvac was looking for a creative to activate the ground floor of Array, then under construction on the Yarra's Edge waterfront. The opportunity came Demian's way as he was searching for a 'construction site' to hold his exhibition of works which was about cities and people. They were intending to be there for only six weeks...that was June 2015.
Demian and Victoria's common interest in the arts has fuelled everything they have created together since. Victoria is a gemmologist and diamond grader with a specialty in identifying and assessing precious gems. Her private and very discreet jewellery business is conducted in the homes and offices of clients by personal referral only.
"The business has had to take a major backseat but I have always got a handful of jobs on the go," says Victoria. "It ticks along in the background. It is something I can't stop; it is so beautiful and enjoyable."
Two passionately creative people can make for an incendiary mix but Victoria believes it is the creativity that they nurture and bring out in each other that has allowed them to achieve so much.
"We enhance each other's drive and sense of adventure; we encourage each other to take crazy opportunities as they present," says Victoria. Or as Demian describes: "She is my MSG of design."
With Victoria's nine-year-old son Tristan, then a baby as they worked towards opening the gallery, the couple moved into an apartment in Array, giving them more time to devote to making it a success.
They added a hole in the wall coffee shop to broaden its visitor appeal and continued to operate as a working artist's studio and commercial art gallery, juggling multiple operations to create a place that would attract people from all over the city to Yarra's Edge.
Exhibition openings drew the cream of Melbourne's sophisticated arts crowd and Yarra's Edge was gaining recognition as an arts hub from this one venture alone. Along came Evangeline and shortly after Caspian, now seven and six, two blessings that added more colour and joy to their life.
Enter Covid. Like every retailer along the boardwalk and throughout Melbourne, it was a case of pivot or die, and Demian and Victoria threw all their energy into survival.
"The restaurant had slowly been gaining greater prominence and was eating the gallery chunk by chunk. Covid left the gallery unfeasible," says Demian.
With singular determination the couple have built up The Espressonist to be a thriving breakfast, brunch and lunch spot. Weddings and events are now a fixture of their offering, the newly betrothed seduced by the spectacular river backdrop for wedding photos and a romantic arrival by boat. Events at the Espressonist are curated by the two, for the discerning customer with a fine eye for design and detail.
Baby Demian completed the family in 2022, a delightful addition with brothers and a sister who adore him.
Most families of six would flee the city for a house and yard in the suburbs but the energy and buzz that fuels their own creativity also provides an enormous playground for their four children. They make an eye-catching ensemble along the boardwalk where it's usually fur babies out for a stroll.
*We like cities, the hustle and bustle, and the kids don't miss out at all," says Demian, who grew up in the country. "Things like bike riding and skating, they have all of this exclusive promenade they can ride without any car dangers.
"People will often say don't the kids miss having a backyard. The simple answer is they have a huge one. There's Point Park and the bike track and walking track down by the river. I think a lot of people don't realise that Yarra's Edge is a great place for families.
"It is a bit counter-intuitive - it gives you a better quality of life because there is no commute."
The economic reality that when you commute you lose time and money, is a factor that has made it easier to pour their all into The Espressonist without sacrificing family life. The deliciously tempting and curated wine and cocktail list in a setting that leaves even the spectacular water views in the shade is testament to the benefits of merging life and work.
The couple have worked hard to make The Espressonist what it is today though they acknowledge there is room for growth and businesses along the river have to be nimble to match the dynamism of the postcode. "This hasn't been an easy journey but it's been ours and to be able to do it all together is marvellous!