Written by Lilani Goonesena.
Julia Paussa, the owner-manager of Coast Restaurant and Bar in Hervey Bay, was a Young Restaurateur National Finalist in 2013. “When I entered Coast was in its third year – the best and easiest year by that stage. I don’t think I would have been able to take a week off in the first two years,” says Julia.
Julia already felt quite familiar with the program, having had many colleagues over the years enter, including Coast’s head chef, Nick Street-Brown, in 2012. “It’s an amazing program for young industry professionals,” she says, rating the South Australia produce tour as the stand out experience.
Julia was so inspired that she brought the concept back to Coast.
“I wanted to bring that feeling I had on the program back into the restaurant; to get my staff on that level where they were excited about the produce too. “So, we started doing mini produce tours with our staff, so, for example, we’d go out to our citrus producers and pick some citrus. Our staff could share that with our customers and we’d also share it on social media,” she says.
Training and developing staff is just one of Coast’s strengths, no easy feat given the high unemployment in Hervey Bay.
“We’re in a regional area and one of the biggest issues we have is finding staff. There isn’t another restaurant like it in the area,” says Julia. “We have to take people who are really fresh and young and transform them into these hospitality professionals.
“But I’m really proud of the team we’ve built; we keep our staff for a really long time.”
It’s a not uncommon obstacle for restaurateurs breaking new ground in regional areas. Another is sourcing suppliers, which Julia said was a struggle in the beginning. But it also pushed them to explore other options. Now one of Coast’s biggest selling points is its focus on local produce, particularly seafood such as scallops and fish.
Another issue Julia dealt with was naysayers at the onset of Coast.
“‘Oh, that’ll never work here’ was the negative kind of attitude I heard,” she says. “I grew up here in Hervey Bay and like most teenagers I couldn’t wait to leave. But when I came back on holidays I said ‘where do we go to eat and drink?’ because that’s what I wanted to do on holidays. So, I was pretty confident that other people would think the same.”
It was vision that paid off with Coast collecting its first hat in the Queensland Good Food Guide in 2013, and the Diners’ Choice Award. “I’m really proud of what we’ve done here; we’re the only hatted restaurant between Noosa and Townsville,” says Julia.
One of the restaurant drawcards is its Dinner Club, which Julia uses to showcase some of the networks she built during the program. “We do Dinner Club events four times a year at Coast with guest chefs; the last one was Richard Ousby, the Young Chef winner in 2011, and the next one is Hajime Horiguchi, a finalist in the same year I was. The program is like an alumni; it’s quite special,” she says.
The last four years at Coast have been a labour of love backed by Julia’s unflagging optimism. Unsurprisingly perhaps she advises budding restaurateurs and those entering the industry to “use your own ideas and take risks. Some of the most successful restaurants are those that have taken risks and that’s paid off.”
Julia is already immersed in her second Hervey Bay business, Badger and Brown’s Burgerie, which opened in March 2014. The gourmet burger bar is a joint venture with Nick Brown-Street, and Coast’s pastry chef, Krista Graham. Julia is managing the business and marketing side.
As well, she’s busy tweaking the menu at Coast, determined to make it a landmark restaurant of the region. It’s already well on its way.