This week Bent on Food turns 12. When I look back I find it difficult to believe that the years have flown by so fast. On 18th December 2004 we opened the doors as a regional food store, selling coffee and cake. I had a water skiing accident the day before opening and spent the first 6 weeks of trading in a brace, often wondering why I left my desk job. But hospitality was in my blood as I had spent most of my working life around food and wine, so I knew deep down that this was what I wanted to do.
We started in a small premises on Bent Street, hence the name, and we were popular from the beginning, helped along by a very early article in the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide (my bible) written by John Saxby, who rated our smoked ham baguette very highly.
I was aware that there were already a number of cafes in the town, including Convivia which was a favourite amongst the locals, so I set about bringing a new market to town. Previous marketing and public relations experience gave me the skills I needed to attract tourists to the region, which I believed would grow the business community and lift the profile of our area. I sent media releases and pretty soon we were featured alongside the cookery school in Country Style Magazine. I entered Tourism awards and won the Regional and State awards in 2006, after just over one year of trading. In 2007 we moved down to the main street and in 2011 we purchased the cookery school. I totally enjoy the children’s cookery classes and have loved working with visiting chefs including Stefano Manfredi, Kurma Dasa and cheesemaking wizard Carole Willman. In 2009 we were fortunate to win the Qantas Australian Tourism Award for the category of Restaurant and Catering Excellence. With the help of Eric and Monica Robinson at The Other Chef we created our produce line that grew into at least 12 products. My dear Graphic Designer friend Peter Metro developed all of our logos and to this day he has never asked for a cent.
I worked with my staff on building a business that the locals would be proud of and that could contribute back to the community, not just through employment, but through donations and sponsorship of events. Bent on Food has supported local and visiting musicians and many customers have enjoyed a great music night at the cafe. Early on I joined my local chamber and soon became president. I have always believed that you must give back to the community where you derive your income from. This is the way I do business, and although it does not necessarily deliver direct results, it makes me sleep at night.
To date, Bent on Food has won 31 Gold awards, 7 silver and 5 bronze in regional, State and National awards programmes. This has lead to a huge amount of publicity for us and for the region. Even though we are very proud of our awards, it is not about a trophy sitting in a cabinet gathering dust; these accolades give staff a real sense of pride and they force me to plan ahead and set true objectives. We are proud to be the most awarded restaurant in the history of the region and we know that our customers are also proud. We have been featured on Clayton Donovan’s Wild Kitchen, Sydney Weekender, Kai Time on the Road, Kochies Business Builders, Basic Banana’s and for a few years I was on a radio program with Robbie Buck on ABC702 which lead to a live broadcast of the radio show from Wingham during the floods. Bent on Food has been featured in the Good Food Guide and Lonely Planet, all of this contributing to the profile of the region.
Many of our favourite customers have moved away, sadly some have passed away. Many have married and we have been fortunate to cater for some beautiful weddings, and later meet their babies. Some have moved on to other cafes, unfortunately never to visit again. I still have fond memories of the chats over the counter as I made their coffees for many years, or chatted with their children, and I often hope that they will pop by some time to say hi.
We have supported local producers from the beginning, with a true dedication to locally grown, seasonal food. The Restaurant and Catering awards are judged by restaurant professionals and we are proud that this year we won the major award of Best Regional Cafe NSW at these awards. This means that the food and the service was rated very highly, so I thank my producers and my staff for the wonderful job they do at preparing and serving quality produce.
Over the years I have been lucky to employ lots of lovely staff, many who have moved on to wonderful careers, and for this I am very proud. My staff and I sincerely thank our loyal customers for standing by us, for letting us know how we can improve, for sharing your memories with us and for allowing us to become an integral part of your day for the past 12 years.
Cheers and a Merry Christmas to all my wonderful customers and suppliers, musicians and staff, family and friends.