Lisette Malatesta had no intention of running a milk bar but she had grown to love East Melbourne and wanted to build a family home there.
While the site at 53 Hotham St had been continuously occupied by a milk bar since 1862, the original bluestone dairy building - first owned by a Mrs Emerson, who lived out the back - had been replaced in 1978 with "a bit of an ugly duckling".
The lack of architectural value was an opportunity for her.
The mother-of-three had moved out of her "big house in Toorak" after her marriage to coffee entrepreneur Salvatore Malatesta ended and rented a flat in Hotham St.
That's when she got to know long-term milk bar proprietors Anna and Norm Daher, and after a while became aware that they were ready to move on.
"Their children had finished school ... and they always had a dream to open a vineyard, which they went on to do," she says.
"Norm was only prepared to sell the building to me if I could give him my word that I wouldn't shut down the shop, that I'd keep it as a going concern, because he had a real affection for his community.
"And so we just passed the baton."
Seven years on, the qualified architect has rebuilt the upstairs residence, doing a lot of the work herself as the registered builder, and while seeing her kids through school, dedicated herself to both the business and the East Melbourne community.
Back in 2005 Malatesta started the successful coffee roastery St Ali with her former husband and over the years she designed and oversaw construction of a series of "high-end hipster cafes" under the family group of companies.
But at her East Melbourne General Store, where Norm and Anna's original Peters plastic ice-cream cones still bracket the rooftop sign, the vibe is something else.
The shop has "quite a steady tradie trade", who don't want to queue up for a fancy bagel, Malatesta says. It also makes school lunches.
The menu is "nostalgic, like a 1980s tuck shop," she says, with made-to-order sandwiches, sausage rolls, milkshakes, apple cakes and custard tarts on offer, along with mixed lollies and old chocolate bars that can be hard to find.
"The store is a place for residents to catch up with neighbours and local goings-on, and local workers to use for meetings and catering," Malatesta says. "It is a respite for the busy and a refuge for the isolated and lonely."
The strong community spirit was particularly apparent during lockdowns, when efforts to "buddy up able-bodied people with more vulnerable people in the community" attracted huge support.
The "emergency response group", EMERG, developed by the store together with the East Melbourne Neighbourhood Network, has had a lasting positive effect, Malatesta says.
Locals also contribute to two charities through the shop, dropping off home-cooked meals for The Humble Mission, and children's books for literacy programs.
But for all the care and community that goes into and out of the place, the business struggles in the highly-competitive retail landscape.
"There's a reason why I'm one of the few remaining milk bars in Melbourne," Malatesta says. "You can't compete with the likes of Coles and Dan Murphy's."
Luckily for the neighbourhood the owner has an income stream from her prior business interests. "I'm in that very privileged position that I can do it for the love," she says.