277-281 Brunswick St, Fitzroy (Moran & Cato)

“Moran and Cato was Australia’s best known national grocery chain during the late 19th and early 20th century, and it had its origins in Carlton and Fitzroy. The business was established by Thomas Moran, who partnered with his cousin Frederick Cato in 1881 to run two local grocery stores on Lygon and Brunswick Streets; by 1890 this had expanded to thirty-five stores in Victoria, and then moved into interstate operations. Moran and Cato’s factory operated on this site from 1927 onwards, after moving from 85-99 Victoria St. The building housed administration and distribution for their national chain of grocery stores, as well as manufacturing and packaging of their groceries. By 1935, this factory was part of a wider distribution and manufacturing network serving over 160 stores in Victoria, New South Wales, and Tasmania. After Moran and Cato was taken over in 1969, this factory was closed, however the building continued to house significant local industry, acting as home to the Rothstein family’s Rotson Knitting Mills until the early 1990s.” Lauren Piko – Yarra Past Port

Google image from July 2019

“MORAN and CATO, Importers and Manufacturers, Grocers, Tea, Coffee and General Provision Merchants. Head office: Corner of Brunswick and Victoria Streets, Fitzroy. This very extensive, widely ramified, and most prosperous business was founded upon very modest lines in the year 1882, when, with a united capital of 300 pounds, Mr. F. J. Cato joined the late Mr. T. E. Moran in partnership as the proprietors of two small grocery establishments, one in Brunswick Street, Fitzroy and the other in Queensberry Street, Hotham, as North Melbourne was then designated.

The business soon began to expand, so that at the end of 1884 eight branches has been established, and in the same year a wholesale depot was opened at the premises of Messrs. W. and A. Bennetts, in Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. Each succeeding year showed a substantial increase in the business, the gratifying result being that in August, 1890, the number of shops opened in the various suburbs amounted to thirty-four, and the trade transacted in them still showed every sign of active increase. In this latter year the firm sustained a sad loss in the death of Mr. Moran which was acutely felt by the survivor of the firm, for not only were the two principals of the firm partners in a large and flourishing undertaking, but they were staunch friends and close companions. During the severe financial depression which resulted from the collapse of the “boom” of disastrous memory, the firm of Moran and Cato continued to open additional branches, and at the present time (1902) they are represented by establishments to the number of fifty-one in the various suburbs of Melbourne. For some years the firm set apart a small department of their business for packing of goods suitable for the grocery trade, but it was not until they opened their present extensive premises at the corner of Brunswick and Victoria Streets, that this branch assumed proportions of such great magnitude as it does at present. The warehouse, which constitutes the headquarters of the firm, is built upon a block of land 90×90 feet and comprises a commodious four-storied building of brick, with two large cellars, serving the double purpose of carrying on a wholesale and retail trade, as well as those of a main depot and manufacturing department. Here goods of all descriptions used in the grocery business are manufactured, packed, bottled, and labelled. The tea-packing forms a most important industry in connection with this department, and for this purpose the most modern scientific machinery is used. From the time the tea arrives in bulk until it is finally packed and tinned it is never handled, all the sifting, sorting and weighing being accomplished by machinery. The weighing machine is worked by electricity, and it is so accurately and delicately balanced and adjusted that the packets do not vary so much as a grain in weight. This work is done mostly by a large staff of girls who form not the least interesting feature of the establishment, as it is pleasant to see such an army of deft and cheerful workers, attired in a neat white uniform; and here, as in every other branch of the business, the most rigorous cleanliness, regularity, and methodical habits are strictly enforced. The coffee-roasting and grinding are also carried out by machinery, and the same carefulness is likewise exhibited in this department. The firm spares no expense in having everything up to date in each branch of the business, and makes a point of adopting all labour-saving appliances wherever practicable. Large numbers of hands are employed in bottling essences, oils, etc., preparing baking powders, jelly crystals, self-raising flour, “Lyfa” salt, and in the manufacture and packing of every description of merchandise embraced within the operation of the firm. The warehouse is fitted up with lifts, and is supplied with a complete telephone system. Years before the weekly half-holiday was established by law, Messrs. Moran and Cato granted their employees the Wednesday afternoon ‘off’ and in addition, adopted a system of annual holidays. The success attending this well-established and extensive business has been attained by a system of thorough working, with the aid of able and experienced men: restricting all transactions to cash only; encouraging employees to use their best endeavours by the stimulus of bonuses on a very liberal scale; purchasing large quantities of stock at first hand in all the world’s principal markets; importing their own goods, and thereby saving many intermediate profits; and by supplying the very best articles at the lowest margin of legitimate profit. In addition to the wholesale warehouse in Fitzroy, and fifty branch establishments, the firm has a factory in Victoria Street with extensive stabling at the corner of Rae and Holden Streets, North Fitzroy. They have also a tea shop in Ballarat, where they shortly intend to open a large establishment on general lines. Mrs. Moran is a sleeping partner in the business, the onus of conducting which rests on the shoulders of Mr. CATO, who is a native of Victoria and was engaged for some time, first as a pupil and then as an assistant teacher in the Stawell State School… (The Cyclopedia of Victoria, 1903-1905, Vol 1 p.521-522) – The Cyclopedia contains more information on the history of Mr Cato, for those researching him.

Moran and Cato’s Head Office Brunswick St, c.1903 – Photo from The Cyclopedia of Victoria, 1903-1905, Vol 1 p.521
Moran and Cato P/L Victoria Street, Fitzroy. Image held by Fitzroy Library. Three substantial works and store. 1948
Image held by Fitzroy Library. Moran and Cato Grocery Administrative building. Located on Brunswick and Victoria Street, Fitzroy. c.1958 (Photo by John O’Brien)
Image held by Fitzroy Library. 1978

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