We talk to Stu Wilson from Flow Espresso Bar

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Flow Espresso Bar in Old Bar is fast developing a reputation for fantastic dining and providing a unique atmosphere. With the building housing Flow providing some colourful local history, Stu Wilson shares some of the amazing back story behind the establishment of the business and introduces us to his talented business partner, Steve Ward …

Share the history of Flow Espresso Bar …

Flow Espresso Bar was born from an idea when I first moved to Old Bar in 2004. The building has a magical ambience, being over 100 years old. From the history I have gathered, it’s always been used as a holiday and entertainment venue. Could you imagine the scene back in the 1920s and ’30s: guests arriving over the Christmas holidays, some on horses, others using the dairy ferries mooring up at Mud Bishops and then some in old Fords and Holdens braving the slippery clay road from Taree!

Here’s an excerpt from Pat Badger, who arrived at the house in 1945: “Prior to the war, the old home was used as a guesthouse. Once the accommodation was full, Pop would erect tents for the overflow, and there would be up to one hundred tents. There was also a tennis court. Of course all the family had jobs allocated to them and there was no sneaking off to the beach before they were done. On Sundays, they often served over 100 meals as the surf club boys and day trippers came for lunch. Jean (Pat’s sister in law) said the most they served in one day was 240”.

Jazz bands used to play in the location where the restaurant is, horse races were common around Racecourse Creek (aka Badgers creek) and church was conducted the next morning on the dirt floor. How could the building not have such an ambience with a beautiful history like this?

It took me almost 8 years and two Development Applications to realise Flow Espresso Bar.

The opening day was just before the 2011 October long weekend. We didn’t tell anyone we were opening, through fear of being overwhelmed. It was a simple commercial BBQ style kitchen. Things were going smoothly for the first few days, until the famous ‘aeroplane in the ferris wheel’ incident – we were already busy, but all the traffic was detoured on to our street. We were given a good perspective on what busy really looks like!

What’s your background, Stu – how did you and Steve first met?

I grew up at Bateau Bay on the Central Coast, and my parents owned a café in Bay Village for about 6 years. I was sent to a new school in 1985, where Steve and I were classmates. We became good mates through fishing, surfing and skateboarding most afternoons and weekends and found many ways to cause trouble!

After school, Steveo went to a hospitality management school and I tried university. After 6 months, Steve had his first placement on the Gold Coast. I hated uni, so decided to tag along. Steve got a job at the Gold Coast International, and I worked at Jupiter’s Casino.

Steveo went back to college, while I stayed on at Jupiter’s. He’d do 6 months in the Blue Mountains and then return to the Gold Coast. It was on this second visit that our good mate/flatmate was suddenly killed in a road accident. You don’t realise what a profound impact these things have on your life. I chose to try and live every minute, travel and do everything as soon as I could, in case I was next. Steveo went back to finish his studies and although we kept in contact, we were both a little lost and went in differing directions.

So, 19 years later, Steve informed you he was coming back to Australia, after having worked around the world. How did this conversation evolve into Steve managing your business for a few weeks while you were away?

We slowly lost contact as mates, as you do when you are trying to create a life in different parts of the world. When Facebook arrived we gained contact again, and I saw he was living the dream on Super Yachts working as a fishing captain and guiding deep sea adventures.

The café was starting to evolve at this stage, and I was asking him for advice on how to manage the business. He told me he’d met a beautiful Canadian girl and they’d travelled to South America together. With a child then on the way, they decided to return to Australia. He had plans to move to Cairns to set up his own fishing charter, when I mentioned I needed help in Old Bar.

This was about a fortnight before I was due to run a Kite Surfing tour to Fiji. I asked him to manage Flow for 3 weeks and if he liked it, we would discuss him becoming a partner. I really threw him in the deep end, but soon I was seeing burnt orange cosmopolitans and new desserts being posted on Facebook!

You and Steve became business partners upon returning from your trip to Fiji. How has having him involved helped Flow prosper? 

I felt I was spreading myself too thinly across the kiting, accommodation and café businesses. When Steve came along, we built a proper commercial kitchen, created more unique recipes and organised our business plan a little better.

With our live music every Friday night and Sunday afternoon and Steve’s background in the fishing industry, we began to offer a beautiful selection of fresh local seafood, which he handpicks from the Coop.

What does Flow specialise in? 

Being in a small town, it’s difficult to survive if you specialise in any one thing. We try to offer a variety of fresh options to cater to a diverse audience. During the week we get a lot of young families and mums who enjoy lighter meals such as salads, tarts and grilled seafood. On the weekend, we get a greater range of customers and can offer some great burgers, wraps, and breakfasts, all with a cultural twist from different parts of the world.

Being open for dinner on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, we only utilise local produce and try to offer as many seafood options as possible. Our local butcher is amazing and looks after us with beautiful cuts of meat, while the seafood co-op will call us if the boat has radioed through news of a fresh Tuna, Wahoo or Snapper catch.

Each week the chefs create a new menu depending on these options, so I guess our specialty is diversity!

What exciting things are in the pipeline for Flow over coming months?

We are getting more and more musicians wishing to perform here. The Aztec have been very generous in this regard, forwarding touring acts our way … A few locals have booked their wedding receptions here, and we still get lots of car clubs, motorcycle groups and family reunions taking advantage of our accommodation and dinner group packages.

Where can people find Flow?

Flow is located in Old Bar at 31 David St. We advise most of our locals about upcoming menus and events via Facebook and there are lots of beautiful photos on there of past events. Visit: www.facebook.com/flowcafe

Call us on (02) 6557 4224 if you have a special request or would like to book in for lunch or dinner. We are fully licensed and look forward to giving you a memorable experience.

Thanks Stu. Photos by Julie Slavin.

This article can be found in issue 73 of Manning-Great Lakes Focus

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