During hard times like COVID, staying in the public eye is a crucial factor in helping your business to thrive. Confined indoors or at minimum to the local area, keeping locals happy is of prime importance, as is an online presence to spread the word a little further. How to gain attention? Well, that’s another story…
Enter Joe Exotic, infamous star of the Netflix documentary Tiger King. Not Joe in person, obviously, but Custard Canteen’s manager Dan, dressed up as Joe Exotic, serving customers.
It’s a creative move by the restaurant, whose owners Ursula and Ben Watts founded Paddock Bakery (since sold), then Bam Bam, Cubby Bakehouse, and Custard Canteen.
Ursula tells us about how their businesses have dealt with the COVID-19 crisis: “The health of our patrons and staff is our highest priority,” Ursula tells us. “Soon after the lockdown began, we set up a ‘drive through’ concept at our venues to allow safe social distancing. Now, about 80% of people are purchasing their Custard Canteen and Cubby treats via drive through,” she says. “The rest are walk ins.”
Things took a huge upward turn when the team decided to find humour in the face of adversity. In a stroke of genius, Joe Exotic, together with his dog Chook, his tiger-painted companion, greets diners who come to Custard Canteen’s drive through pickup station. The public response has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic.
However, such fun-filled creativity should not be a surprise because it has always been the foundation of their restaurants’ appeal. With loads of research and incredible dedication, the couple set out to redefine some great world food dishes, particularly baked goods, putting their own unique spin on each one. From buttery almond croissants to oozing salted caramel cookies, from crispy buttermilk prawn po’boys to glass-crisp topped banh mi rolls, and fragrant Portuguese tarts to crunchy French sticks, they have raised the bar on baking in the Gold Coast area.
Wildly popular since opening, their businesses felt the force of COVID-19 stress: “It’s been a tough time for everyone,” she says, “but we decided it was important to keep a positive attitude for our community and our staff,” she says, “a glass half full approach no matter what.”
“For us it’s about serving our local community. We are continuing to trade to keep our staff members in jobs, our regulars caffeinated and to keep smiles on local kids’ faces with Joe Exotic as well as the sticker packs we gift them at the drive throughs,” she says adding that, as a mother of two herself, she understands the challenges faced by parents of kids during isolation.
“My two kids Owen and Bob have been helping too. They started a production line at home packaging up sticker sets for the kids who come in the drive through. It’s been a family affair!”
In response to community requests and with takeaway being one of the few outings allowed in lockdown, Custard Canteen is not only open during the day but also at night, with a new Din Dins evening menu combining favourite dishes from all three of their stores.
“The Nasi Goreng from Bam Bam Bakehouse is iconic and something we couldn’t do without at night,” Ursula says. “We put news of our dinner hours on our Instagram story then suddenly we had queues looping around the Tallebudgera Creek car park, a great problem to have. A lot of locals continue to support us and we’ve also had people travelling from all across the Gold Coast for the food and to see Joe Exotic and his antics in the flesh. Laughter helps us all as well, so that’s been a nice distraction.”
For many, it’s a bright spot in their otherwise dismal ‘iso’ week, giving them a laugh, with Dan’s antics brightening their day.
“For us, it’s about keeping the doors open to support the community and our staff. We are a family run business, we were born and bred on the Gold Coast and so are our kids. I think the community has really rallied around to support us ever since we started and we’re so thankful to everyone reading for that.
We started the business as a place we’d love to go to eat – a café with fresh bread, lunch and dinner made from the freshest, local ingredients. That’s how we’ve always rolled and we’ll keep doing that as long as we can,” Ursula says.
Custard Canteen, 1525 Gold Coast Hwy, Palm Beach
Ring ahead to place your order on 0474008562
Open daily from 6am – 2.30pm and 4.30 – 7.30pm.