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The Autumn Rooms expands to Stockton

Swell Magazine’s editors, Kristy and Bec, both happen to call Stockton home. If you’re not familiar, it’s that little seaside village across the harbour from Newcastle and as the girls have been telling us for quite some time - it’s actually a super nice place to live or visit. So when they noticed a sign in the window of an empty shop announcing that Darby Street favourite The Autumn Rooms would be opening up soon, we knew we had to get the inside scoop.

The Autumn Rooms on Darby Street Newcastle has been serving up premium coffee, specialty teas and incredibly creative food since they first opened in 2017. They’re now about to open their second space – a coffee bar – in Stockton! We had a chat with owner Ben Richardson about the plans and why they’ve chosen this somewhat unexpected location.

Firstly, why Stockton?

We had been looking for somewhere for a while and we had a few close calls but this space came up and when I drove into Stockton I was sold – it reminds me a lot of where I spent a lot of my time growing up. It’s a beautiful little beach town. 

Whenever I do something, I want it to be for the community as much as for me and the staff – to me, that’s what hospitality is all about. I have seen it happen before – a new cafe will open in a suburb that hasn’t had much before and you really start to see it come alive. Stockton already has some great pubs and a bunch of great little businesses, and I just think we can bring something to the community there. I’m pretty excited about doing that.

It sounds like Stockton could be the next big thing?

Yeah, just looking at real estate over here, there’s definitely people spending a fair bit of money! And then obviously those people are going to want some nice places to go. I was a bit naive, to be honest, but when I drove in I was surprised by the businesses I saw that had opened up here. I think it’s really happening.

What can we expect from Autumn Rooms Coffee Bar in Stockton?

The two cafes will be branded very similarly – we’ll have Autumn Rooms Cafe on Darby Street and Autumn Rooms Coffee Bar in Stockton. The biggest thing that will set them apart is the size of the space – Stockton is a much smaller space so it’s not going to be the same business. But, in saying that, we will have the same focus on premium coffee and we will be able to use the kitchen on Darby Street to prepare some of the food to take over to Stockton. So while we won’t have the same full menu there, we will have some of our signature dishes like our crumpets and waffles and other simple tasty food like toasties. 

The space will have a lot of greenery and some nice outdoor seating. We won’t have as many seats inside, it’s more about grabbing a coffee and relaxing outside. There will definitely be hints of Darby Street, but bearing in mind the smaller space.

How has the past year been for you guys? I know, like many businesses, you had to adapt to stay afloat during lockdown, such as offering your super popular brunch boxes.

We definitely learnt a lot during lockdown and made a few changes to our business. Like everyone, we lost about 80 percent of our business within the first few days. But we tried to look for the opportunities – Stockton obviously being one of them.

Staffing wise, we did lose a couple at the start but we ended up hiring another handful. So we managed to keep our team together which was really important to us so that when we did eventually reopen, we could hit the ground running. 

Brunch boxes came about because we really wanted to keep our staff engaged and give them some hours. But we also wanted to keep doing something for the community. We realised what people were missing during lockdown – they were looking for things to do at home. We gave them a list of instructions and the ingredients to create some of the dishes that we would normally provide at the cafe. A lot of other places were doing it in the end, but they were really popular.

I know that you’ve been working in the hospitality industry in Newcastle for some time now. How do you find it? What do you love about owning a business here?

That’s right – I didn’t grow up here (I grew up on a property near Taree) but Newcastle was the closest university so I’ve been here since I was 17 and I’ve been working in hospitality ever since. 

What I love about business in Newcastle – and I have spent a bit of time in Sydney and Melbourne as well – is the community support for what we do. It’s the thing that got us through lockdown and the challenges of the past couple of years. Seeing all of the other business owners coming out and doing new things despite it all – I thought to myself ‘wow, this is why we need to get through it’. We’re part of a really beautiful community here and I love that Newcastle is moving forward so quickly. I like being a part of that. It’s changed so much since I first moved here, but especially in the past five or so years. It’s a really exciting time to be in business here.

What is your goal for opening the Stockton coffee bar?

We will be open by 19 December, in time for Christmas. As long as we get our front window! We’re really looking forward to getting over there, meeting everybody and having some fun.

Kristy and Bec, for one, are super excited to have amazing food and coffee at their doorsteps in good ol’ Stockton. If you haven’t visited in a while, be sure to keep an eye out on The Autumn Rooms social channels for their official opening date and why not make a day of it? The ferry leaves Queens Wharf every half hour and it’s all but a five minute journey across to Stockton. You’d be silly not to!

The Autumn Rooms are currently looking for baristas and Front of House staff for their Stockton coffee bar. Email Ben and the team at employment@theautumnrooms.com.au.

Words: Hannah Mills | Photography: Sophie Tyler

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