Reinventing the humble shipping container

Don Tapa restaurant in Fremantle lives in a converted shipping container. Picture: Contained.

You might see a utilitarian metal box, but Anatoly Mezhov and Irene Polo see a blank canvas ready to be transformed into a restaurant, a bar, a very unique office space, or even a portable hotel room.

Mezhov and Polo are the pair behind Contained, a relatively new concept-driven business that takes shipping containers and crafts them into usable modern spaces.

Already they’ve had success creating numerous restaurants and bars in Western Australia, simply by dropping a decked-out container into underutilised spaces and areas, and dialling up the food offering.

They sold their first container to a Perth operator a few years ago after taking the better part of three months to fit it out.

“It was a really nice product, very different, people were taking to it,” Mezhov says.

Magna Pizza contained Don Tapa Fremantle

The Mantle, consisting of Don Tapa restaurant, Alter Ego cocktail bar and Magna Pizza. Picture: Contained.

“We showed it to someone, brought it to Perth and they pretty much purchased it off us straight away, which was great. It enabled us to then refine the second one and build it and actually set up our own bar and restaurant, Don Tapa, in the (Fremantle) port.”

When they later found an even better space in an old Fremantle heritage warehouse, the next move was simple: just pick up the container and drop it into its new digs.

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But first they needed to convince the other tenants of the strata building to allow them to install it.

“We had our first meeting with the neighbours and they said, ‘There’s no way we’re going to let anything like that (in here)…it smells and the noise’,” Polo says.

“But now they’re all pretty much regulars, which is great,” Polo says.

They added another container inside the building to create a pizza bar (Magna Pizza) and a cocktail bar (Alter Ego), called the whole thing The Mantle, and the rest is history.

“That launched about two and a half years ago and it’s been really well received, it’s going really well,” Mezhov says.

Don Tapa Magna Pizza Fremantle Contained shipping container

Converted shipping containers provide the food preparation spaces the cooking space at Magna Pizza and Don Tapa in Fremantle. Picture: Contained.

While Contained’s main trade thus far has been in the restaurant game, their designs also have applications for office spaces and accommodation.

Mezhov, with a background in construction management, and Polo, whose previous career was in commercial property, have big plans for a luxurious, easily transportable accommodation offering, which is set to be fully revealed in the coming weeks.

“We’re looking to … use the shipping container structure base to make quite a luxurious roving hotel room that can be deployed in a winery or on a rooftop or anywhere to just unlock some land potential, to create amazing amenity for the tourism sector for people to get away, and at the same time work with landlords to unlock the potential of their beautiful land and generate some cashflow for them where usually there would just be an empty roofspace or a land plot,” Mezhov says.

As Polo and Mezhov say, the containers also have one other important factor in their favour, in comparison to other commercial property spaces: if things don’t work out, they can always move it.