Sometimes the stayers get overlooked.
I’m thinking that as we sit having breakfast at Daniel Stuart’s. A family owned and operated business, Daniel Stuart Fine Food was the first tenancy in the newly built Southport Central and, over ten years later, the only original food outlet remaining.
Tucked around one corner of Southport Central opposite the RSL, Daniel Stuart is a hidden secret to those who live elsewhere on the coast, and the café of choice for many Southport residents and workers.
It’s a stayer for a reason. It’s fairly rare for a café to advertise their mission statement, but there it is, lit up in bold letters underneath the menu:
“It’s our mission…to show our passion for food, provide quality coffee and friendly service in a relaxed comfortable environment.”
Daniel Stuart is all of those things when we visit. We are greeted warmly by the chef, who looks out from the kitchen, and made comfortable by the waitress. Water and glasses are brought to the table, and drink and food orders taken. All good!
Meanwhile, the chef (owner Daniel Campbell, I later learn) works happily away, chatting to anyone who approaches the open kitchen. A lot of people come and go, talking to Daniel while their takeaway coffee is made, sitting solo to read the papers or in pairs for a chat or meeting, or families dining out for breakfast together.
A look over the menu shows us lots of favourites – generous serves at keen prices: House muesli with berry compote and honey yoghurt $9, Standard brekkie (2 x XL free range eggs on Turkish) $6, Gourmet omelette $14.50 and Eggs bene $13.50 – $16.50.
When our Bacon and eggs ($9.50) arrives, the eggs are perfectly poached, the bacon crispy, the wedges of Turkish toasted on the grill carrying the scent of rosemary oil. My sweet corn fritters are light and airy (made by someone who knows the tricks), served with bacon and poached eggs, avo and baby spinach topped with house tomato relish.
Accompanying breakfast is a mug of creamy Genovese coffee, a Melbourne brew which the café has used since the beginning. It’s full-bodied, smooth and milky without being bitter.
It’s an impressive first visit. Nothing showy, but really solid, and we can feel something special happening here. The café is obviously loved, and, with their 10th anniversary taking place, we took the time to make another visit to talk to Daniel and his mother Myra.
Starting off in the industry was not a difficult step for Daniel. I look up to see a photo of Myra at their kitchen sink with Daniel, aged 4 years old, helping out. After topping Home Economics at school, Daniel went on to work for a spit roast catering company, going out on his own at age 15 to cater for parties.
Cooking and catering is still his passion, but what does it take to endure in an industry which claims victims every year?
He admits that survival has at times been tough. While the café has garnished many awards (Gold Coast People’s Choice Café for years running as well as inclusion in the Good Food & Wine Guide), obstacles piled on top of each other in the café’s middle years: first the GFC, with Southport Central being the first development to go into receivership, and then the light rail. With the Q:Link development taking up Scarborough Street (the road traversing Southport’s retail area) for over two years, it was understandable that some customers stayed away for the duration. Many businesses closed through lack of custom, but Daniel Stuart’s kept its head above water.
Looking back, there are many positives which can now be seen, Daniel says: a clean up to the centre of Southport, the suburb has become classier, more diverse and family-friendly than it was ten years ago. There’s also been an increase in custom (especially with the increase in high rise developments), diversification of their business through catering (for business, government as well as private functions) and products for sale (onion jam, honey balsamic dressing, house beans, sauces and jams). More recently Daniel and Myra have redeveloped the café to include a huge alfresco area that triples the space of the café, allowing it to cope better with different weather conditions.
It’s regulars that Daniel and Myra thank for their success. But there’s far more to it than that, we think. It’s about consistency, being adaptable to change and customer needs (“All needs and all age groups,” says Daniel. GF, DF and V are clearly marked on the menu), providing high quality food at affordable prices, staying current and on trend without stepping out too far, establishing ‘must have’ dishes (“We never take the Chicken Parmi off the menu!”) as well as daily specials to mix it up for locals. (Daniel Stuart’s also runs $10 blackboard specials on Monday and Tuesday lunch, plus a daily $9 Brekkie Roll and coffee deal).
However, the critical factor in every café’s success, we believe, is the creation of a welcoming atmosphere where people feel valued.
“Some people eat here five days a week for breakfast, lunch or coffee. Others bring clients in. Mum’s the person on the till. She’s almost a counsellor sometimes,” Daniel jokes. “Many chefs don’t interact with customers. When they do say hello and have a bit of a chat, they create a family vibe in a café. This is a family business, run by a family that actually cares.”
With much of their business taking place on week days, it’s been important to market the café to Southport business owners as a place to take their customers for a chat, glass or wine and light meal.
Weekends see more locals come out of their units to graze. It surprises me how many single people come and go on a weekend morning until I realise that for many this would be part of their daily routine: paper and coffee while taking a walk from their unit.
Research shows that there’s a coveted emotional bond established between restaurant and customer which keeps people coming back – not just to sample their favourite dish, but even more so to talk to the restaurateur who makes them feel special, a part of a community; even more so if they live alone. The big three emotions that customers want to feel when they dine are feeling lighthearted, uninhibited and embraced. (Carbone, 2013)
How many cafés are there in Southport CBD noted for their coffee and food made from scratch, where customers are made to feel really welcome? Daniel Stuart makes two that I know of, but I’m pushing to think of any more…
Great food, quality coffee and friendly service. They’re what every customer comes back to experience or, put another way, the 3-pronged legged chair that every great café sits on. Certainly Daniel Stuart’s does!
Carbone L 2013, ‘When it comes to customer experience, unleashing the power of the unconscious mind changes everything’, Smartblogs.
1 Lawson Street, Southport Ph: 07 5503 0070
Open: Mon – Fri 7am – 3pm; Sat 7.30am – 11.30pm