In this town of ours, eateries are a dime a dozen – there’s just no denying it. You could dine out at a different spot every day for a month without exhausting your choices, and new spots are popping up all the time. To make a difference, to become a favourite, to last more than your first year, you need, as a restauranteur, to strike a chord with the locals – strike it loud, make it count and be playing the right tune.
If I am to flog that musical metaphor for all it’s worth, I guess you’d have to proclaim the Roadhouse‘s founders, Adam Coates and Ruby Thomas, as nothing less than contemporary virtuosos in their field.
Adam, a Sunshine Coast boy, met Ruby in her home town of Sydney, the hospitality industry playing matchmaker for the couple, and they set up shop in Bondi. Popular, successful, the business was doing well – but something was missing.
Integrity is a highly personal perspective, multi-dimensional in its application and an exceedingly difficult master to remain true to. But it was integrity that brought Adam and Ruby to Byron Bay, and it was with that integrity that they established the Roadhouse.
“We wanted to create something that we loved and where we wanted to hang,” says Ruby of their initial game plan. “We just wanted to share our kitchen with everyone else. We started coming up here [from Sydney] quite a bit and we always thought we’d love to live up here. But we didn’t want to just nudge our way in straight away. We didn’t want to be one of these people from other cities who come in, start a business and think they can take over. We rented a room, started coming up once a month and just got to know everyone and what everyone wanted here. We did a lot of research on the area and what it needed – it was a gradual transition.”
Forming a business partnership with existing Byron residents Liam Flannigan, Duane Edgar and Dan Woolley, Adam and Ruby began actualising their dream, creating for the people of Byron everything they wanted to see in their own kitchen: good coffee, organic food, healthy, nutritional menus and, yes, alcohol. “We believe in ‘everything in moderation’. It’s all about balance – if you can live a happy, healthy life, that’s the main thing. We are very selective. We don’t serve any sugary mixers – we don’t serve coke, we don’t serve lemonade. We do have a homemade, cold-pressed lemonade if someone does want a mixer, and that’s how we serve things. We have organic milk, organic coffee, we make our own organic almond milk, so there’s an option for everyone. I think it can be quite confronting for people if it’s all organic, so we do it in a way that pleases everyone, but it’s still healthy.”
This healthy balance pervades all aspects of the business, an acute awareness of health and quality instilled in everything, but without ostracising any specific demographic – a holistic approach to hospitality. You can get your caffeine fix, your shot of Dutch courage, a glass of wine or a steak dinner, but you can be assured that the finest produce has been sourced and combined with numerous nutritional and beneficial ingredients. And it is in this aspect of the business that Adam excels.
Adam is, for want of a better word, adamant in sourcing the very best he can find, in everything. From vintage whiskies to Italian olive oils, the freshest, locally grown vegetables and pasture-to-plate meats.
Working with local producer Kieran Weston and his business, One Organic, Adam pre-plans his menu, not by holidays or festivities, but by growing seasons, requesting seasonal crops be planted for specific dishes.
“We come up with a working menu with our chef ,” he says, “and then pass it on to Keiran and he seeds it. We are changing to incorporate into our dishes those plants and vegetables that he can grow. Right now, for example, he can grow heaps of kale because it has been dry, but he can’t grow any rocket, so we are adapting our menu to accommodate that. Kale’s really good for some people, but for others it’s not because it’s so hard, so we’re blanching it, or combining it with apple cider vinegar to help with digestion.”
The pair’s personal ideals in food and drink and their strong awareness in the need to step away from mass-produced, imported, genetically modified ingredients, from both an ecological and health perspective, has created something quite unique.
“Food has become a commodity. People don’t believe in paying for good produce anymore, but we are trying to turn that around. Although we’re not making much profit, we’re consuming it every day so we’re healthy and our friends and family are. To me, that’s success.”
Although he recognises the necessity to import in order to maintain his high standards, Adam does all he can to utilise and support local producers. The result is a culinary cellar door, a farmhouse kitchen for the public, representing the best produce Byron can offer in an establishment where you won’t feel out of place or frowned upon for ordering a double espresso with a whisky chaser to wash down your roast pork.
Giving back for all he receives, Adam is also keen to support the local community in any way he can. At the moment, Adam is asking all customers to tip and tip well, not to line the pockets of he and his staff, but to raise money for a tractor to be donated to Kieran and the One Organic farm. Whatever tips are raised, he will match personally, aiming loosely for a figure of $10,000 for the machinery. In turn, Kieran will be able to produce and harvest more produce, increasing supply to the Roadhouse, and so the circle continues.
True to their word, Adam, Ruby and their business partners have created exactly what they set out to do: a cafe-restaurant that feels like a mate’s place, its warm interior familiar, the staff welcoming and the food rustic and nourishing, although deliciously balanced and perfectly presented.
– This article first appeared on Common Ground Australia on Nov 26, 2013
All Photos: ©Kirra Pendergast