There were waves of anticipation among foodies when Brenda Fawdon and Sonja Drexler embarked on their latest project, North Stores. The venue comprises three buildings, an environmentally sustainable and architecturally designed food, art and nature hub in Main Street, North Tamborine. After three years of planning and development, North Stores finally opened in 2021.
It takes a huge amount of commitment to establish a new business in the hospitality industry, especially in the present climate. But there are those, like Brenda and Sonja, who do it very successfully; people who have the skills, experience and backing to identify and mitigate the risks, stacking the odds in their favour to achieve a win.
It’s hard to imagine a more talented pair than Brenda and Sonja, whose ventures have been foundational to Brisbane’s healthy eating scene for over twenty years.
Brenda is well-known as a passionate wholefood chef, restaurateur, and co-author of Eat Local; Food, farming and conversation in the Scenic Rim, Volumes 1 & 2 with Christine Sharp. She is a food ambassador for the Scenic Rim region in Queensland, which was named in Lonely Planet’s list of top places to visit in 2022.
Brenda and Sonja have worked together for over twenty years, co-founding the award-winning restaurant, catering business and cooking school Mondo Organics in Brisbane in 2000, which they sold in 2015. After leading food and wine tours to Italy with UK company Tastes of Italy, they founding Real Food Farm Gate, a farm-gate-to-farmers-market business, sold in 2021 to help fund their North Stores venture.
With degrees in both architecture and interior design, Sonja has experience across the hospitality sector and in project management for retail and hospitality, specialising in sustainable and ecological design.
It’s hardly surprising, then, that Sonja designed and supervised the building of North Stores, a curated group of shops and spaces including Picnic Real Food Bar and four other rentable spaces, two now occupied by their partners, who own and operate Christine Sharp Studio and Potta Studio ceramics.
North Stores comprises three gorgeous buildings that blend into the surrounding landscape, the aesthetics aided by landscaped gardens whose greenery pops against the dark colours, timber, rock and colourbond-built venue.
On a lower level behind the main co-joined buildings, a purpose-built workshop and event space surrounded by lawn and trees completes the development. The ‘Kissing Tree’, a well-known local landmark, retains some romantic nostalgia for many locals in this new space.
After a look around, we settle down at the Picnic Real Food Bar, relaxing with our meal on the deck under shady trees. The display cabinets give us clear directions to what’s on the menu: produce-driven fresh salads, house-baked pastries, wholefood cakes and dishes made in house. Menu items come in the form of bowls, patties, tacos, pies and burritos, either made to order or baked that morning to be heated and served. Ingredients are sourced from local growers wherever possible, and everything’s available to eat in, to take away or to form the basis of a picnic at one of the many landscape attractions in the area.
Salads are our focus at lunchtime, mine with skinless poached chicken and house-made pesto. My husband is more than happy with a chunky lamb pie accompanied by a side salad. As the venue is licensed, a glass of Latta Granite minimal intervention Riesling is a great accompaniment for the salad. Of course, there are other drink options, such as craft beer or cider, organic kombucha or freshly cold-pressed juice. Coffee is from micro roaster Reuben Hills.
If we look at the menu alone, our dishes at Picnic Real Food Bar are filled with simple goodness rather than showy presentation. However, there’s much more to the story.
Placing a huge emphasis on sustainability, the venue uses environmentally friendly methodology throughout.
“See over there?” Brenda says to us, pointing to a solitary pair of garbage bins. “I’m very proud of that, but we are working towards zero waste.”
With its own bore to supply water, and a closed-loop system that turns kitchen waste into compost to minimise garbage, they are well on their way. For sustainability, the North Shores team is establishing their own kitchen garden to provide herbs, citrus and seasonal vegetables for the café and catering.
With a clear vision and dogged determination, Brenda and Sonja have worked hard over the past three years to bring their shared dream to fruition, a plan that is still unfolding. In so doing, they have created a lighthouse project of how sustainable a venue can be if only we dared to dream and worked with perseverance to make those dreams come true.
Picnic Real Food Bar, 46 Main St, North Tamborine Ph: 0480 344 539 Open: Wed – Sun 8am – 3pm
NOTE: Good Food Gold Coast dined as guests of Picnic Real Food Bar.