Thank you to the Newcastle Herald and writer Judith Whitfield for this beautiful story. I hope you enjoy knowing why we do what we do at estabar x Bec
If you’ve been to Newcastle beach in the past 15 years, chances are you’ve seen Estabar - a small bustling cafe overlooking the water. And if you’ve been to Estabar, no doubt you’ve seen owner Bec Bowie inside. She’s got one of those faces you swear you’ve seen before, because you probably have.
Bec is passionate, friendly and fun. But she is also smart, principled and creative. She has run a successful small business despite facing huge obstacles from the CBD redevelopment. She is a mother, wife, advocate and integral member of the Newcastle community through her Hello Newy East social media project. And she loves good food. And coffee.
We followed her daily routine - co-ordinating family life with work, pleasure and her passions - and came out the other side inspired, and needing a cup of tea.
Wake up and smell the coffee. Bec lives in Newcastle East with her husband of eight years, Trent, and their twin sons, Alby and Van, 4. Plus Harry and Batsy their pooches.
The day starts pretty much like everyone else’s - waking up with the kids. “I brush my teeth. Then we all pile downstairs and put the coffee pot on. Coffee comes first,” she says.
“My husband pours the coffee and for me, that coffee is the most special coffee of the day because he’s making it for me and we’re drinking it together. It really sets the tone.”
Bec Bowie on the start of her day
“We can say to them ‘Alice [from Baked Uprising] made you that bread’, or ‘the kombucha was made by Erin'. They know a lot of the people who are putting food on their table which I really, really love. And they have a massive love affair with Sarah [Sivyer, from Just Been Laid] who’s got the chicken farm. We’ve been up several times to put the new chickens to bed, to teach them how to roost. So now, if we‘re having a chicken for dinner, they’ll say ‘Sarah’s going to miss this chicken’. So I’m surprised they haven’t turned into little vegetarians.”
But like most kids, they have a soft spot for junk. They love fresh white packet bread and will sample a few lollies at a party.
“Sometimes Alby comes down in the morning before any of us and we open the pantry door and there he is, standing on the toaster, ratting through the cupboards looking for Dad’s biscuits and Dad’s chocolate and he’ll say ‘Mum I found so many fun things for me to eat this morning!’.”
You don’t have to search too far to see Bec’s whole-food approach isn’t that far removed from her childhood upbringing on the Mid North Coast.
“I grew up in Taree and my dad fished all the time and we had a butcher around the corner and we had a big veggie patch in the backyard and we had a bunch of neighbours so there was always fresh food being passed around the street.”
“But we definitely ate TipTop and margarine as kids too.” These days, a couple of really thick-cut slices of freshly-baked sourdough lathered in butter is more tempting.
Once all the boys have left, Bec puts the house back together, then heads to Estabar. “I stopped working when I was pregnant because I was enormous. I’ve only just started back and I really, really love it. Mondays and Tuesdays I work on the floor which leaves Thursdays for me to do all my back of house stuff.”
That’s when she’ll spend the morning working on a project, or in this case, heading to the laundromat because the washing machine has carked it.
“I usually sit down and do social media stuff. My normal practice would be a post for Estabar and a post for Hello Newy East and then I would start thinking about the projects that I need to work on for Estabar.”
Estabar is one of Newcastle’s success stories. It’s only a small space, but it’s got a big heart and a big community behind it. It was the allure of working with a good team that attracted Bec to the idea in the first place.
“I did a Bachelor of Business at Newcastle University. It was all I knew I wanted to do - a business. I worked at Newcastle City Council for five years after uni, in economic development, tourism specifically. I was excited about Newcastle and I was excited about community.”
“Newcastle City Council was a great place for me to learn about community and collaboration, but after five years . . . I was not happy with the culture. My boyfriend [and business partner] at the time lived in Barcelona. He rang and said ‘there’s a space we could rent on Newcastle Beach where we could open a gelato and espresso bar’. I remember thinking I’d rather go broke in my own business than go mad at local government and so I jumped at the chance.”
Bec quit her job and prepared to open her first business. She had no background in hospitality, so she worked at some local cafes for six months to better understand the industry.
“In the end, I just kept getting fired,” she laughs.
Regardless, Estabar opened on November 19, 2004. Right from day one it was all about her staff and her customers.
"I just really wanted to work with a great team who were passionate about their lives and were going to bring 110 per cent and we were going to take care of people.”
Although sometimes it was the customers taking care of her.
“We weren’t intending to do food. It was Brian [a regular from day one] who said ‘Rebecca, for God’s sake, can you buy a jar of Vegemite and some bread and just at least serve toast?’ We had this idea…where you’d come, have a delicious pastry and a beautiful gelato, your coffee would be to die for, and you’d look at the beach, and that was it. We totally misjudged that, and so we put Vegemite toast on the menu.”
After years of eating toast and pastries, drinking coffee and living a hectic life, Bec was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease. She knew she had to learn more about the role food plays in health and wellbeing and enrolled in a five-month course at the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York in 2006.
“I went to New York because I really wanted to learn how to nourish myself and my people, I thought ‘if I’m going to feed people, I want to be feeding them really well’.”
While she was studying real food, she worked long hours at an Indian restaurant in the heart of Manhattan, and there she learnt about reducing waste.
“They didn’t waste anything. Everything went into the stockpot. If they opened a fridge door, there was a countdown.”
She came back brimming with ideas, but took her time. While the Estabar ethos had always been clear - fresh, locally-sourced food - she had to find the suppliers who aligned with her vision.
“I knew I had to put a meal together without having to reach for a packet.”