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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Repin, Ivan Dmitrievitch (1888–1949)

by Ian J. Bersten

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Ivan Dmitrievitch Repin (1888-1949), coffee-shop proprietor and coffee importer, was born on 5 January 1888 in Novgorod province, Russia, son of Dmitri Ivanovitch Repin, a trader on the River Sheksna, and his wife Maria, née Pavlovna. Ivan studied engineering at the Mining Institute, St Petersburg. In that city on 21 April 1913 he married Alexandra Michaelovna Hrisonopoulo, who came from the Crimea; they were to have two sons and two daughters. He was working in the Don basin in the Ukraine when the 1917 revolution broke out; he fled to the Urals, and then to Vladivostok.

Sailing from Shanghai with his wife, two daughters and brother Peter, Repin reached Sydney on 12 October 1925 in the Tango Maru. Life was not easy: he worked as a motor driver and later ran his own single bus line. He opened refreshment rooms at 152 King Street in September 1930 and was naturalized on 11 December that year. Repin's Coffee and Tea shops followed in quick succession—by 1934 there were two shops in both King and Pitt streets, and another in Market Street. In 1937 he moved one shop from Pitt Street to George Street and added Repin's Quality Inn at 108 King Street. Douglas Annand painted a mural in Repin's coffee bar at 175 Pitt Street; from 1941 the Elite Lounge Restaurant also operated there.

Many migrants from Europe rejoiced in a real cup of coffee instead of the weak, milky concoction that passed for one in Sydney. During the Depression employers who could no longer afford rented premises began to meet their staff at Repin's in Pitt Street to read the mail they had collected from the General Post Office. Repin's became an important part of the commercial fabric of the city where newcomers began their enterprises and made friends.

Repin visited the United States of America in 1935-36 and 1938-39 to learn about coffee and improve his blends. During World War II visiting American servicemen patronized his shops. In the late 1940s customers 'sat cramped in cubicles with heavy high dark wooden panels separating each table', talking over good coffee or pots of tea, with refreshments such as waffles and raisin toast. The King Street shop 'had a touch of Europe about it largely because it was frequented by European-style, coffee-loving intellectuals', such as George Munster, Eugene Kamenka and George Molnar. Repin, in the early 1930s, began roasting coffee in his shop windows and sold freshly ground beans over the counter. In 1948 roasting of coffee was centralised in a warehouse and factory in Darlinghurst.

In time Repin acquired houses at Bellevue Hill (where he lived), Lane Cove, Palm Beach (two) and Paddington. He enjoyed photography and boating. Survived by his wife, daughters and younger son, he died of a cerebral haemorrhage on 20 June 1949 in the Scottish Hospital, Paddington, and was buried in Botany cemetery with Russian Orthodox rites.

Repin's coffee shops had brought to predominantly tea-drinking Sydney a little of the sophistication that characterized the city of St Petersburg in Tsarist Russia. They were the antipodean counterpart of the Russian Tea Room in coffee-drinking New York and the precursors of Australia's Italian espresso-bars. Decades after Repin's death former customers fondly remembered his shops.

Select Bibliography

  • B. Brown, Coffee with Roses (Syd, 1983)
  • A. Coombs, Sex and Anarchy (Melb, 1996)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 21 June 1949
  • naturalisation file, A659, item 1943/1/3554 (National Archives of Australia)
  • deceased estates, I. Repin, 20/4500 (State Records New South Wales)
  • private information.

Citation details

Ian J. Bersten, 'Repin, Ivan Dmitrievitch (1888–1949)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 24 September 2020.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

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