For so many of us, the local cafe isn’t just a source of essential caffeine – it’s a daily dose of connection as well. Feeling part of your local community can raise your spirits and fill your cup – but what about the lovely people behind the counter? In this very special new series, we take a look at six beautiful cafes both in Australia and beyond – speaking to the owners and staff to find out what their cafes and communities mean to them, and how they manage to fill their own cups. First up is Brooke Holtz of Sunbear cafe in Hobart – a newly-opened space that’s the result of a hugely spontaneous sea-change.
What inspired you to relocate from Brisbane to Hobart to open Sunbear?
Sunbear’s been open for just over three months, which feels both like a quick minute and how it’s always been. I have a big love for coffee shop culture and it’s always been part of my life – whether that’s through work or my weekend mornings – so I guess it’s been one of those tinkering dreams in the back of my mind that I hoped one day would come to life. My parents relocated to Hobart, which initially put it on the map for me, and then when I stumbled across my dream space online that happened to be in Hobart, it all kind of snowballed – quite impulsively and very spontaneously.
Did you find it difficult to make the leap into owning your own business? What were some of the challenges?
I think I’m still in the leaping motion to be honest! It wasn’t difficult to make the decision to do it, because I always hoped owning my own business would be on the cards, but it’s certainly been my biggest challenge to date – which is funny, because I started this year trying to manifest finding something that really pushed my limits. Found it! Every day is full of challenging lessons – from working with suppliers and learning who our lovely customers are and what they need and want from their local coffee shop, to understanding the financials and building a team. It’s completely consuming, but there’s nothing else I’d rather be pouring my energy into!
Tell us a bit more about the business and the building you’re housed in.
Before Sunbear found its home at 145 Collins Street, teddy bears filled the space. It was the iconic Teddy Bear Shop for close to 40 years. This history is where the name came from, paying homage to it and to represent the cozy space it’s evolved into. The original owners came in recently and it was so nice to hear their story and show them what it is now.
We serve a simple menu of drinks (coffee and tea, homemade chai, turmeric lattes and sodas etc) and small plates (a changing blackboard menu of 5 – 7 items). The menu is designed to be simple, seasonal and satisfying. What’s in the quiche or on the sandwiches will depend on what’s growing locally.
In such a short amount of time, we’re really grateful to already have got to know so many wonderful people by name! Customers coming back each day is a very rewarding feeling and I’m really proud to have created a space where people want to spend their time.
Describe the seachange of moving from from Brisbane to Hobart – what do you love about being in Tassie, and what do you miss about Queensland?
It’s really all a conversation about the weather! We’ve gone from sweaty days to needing to know how to build a good fire each evening. The seasons are distractingly beautiful down here – spring is just coming to life and there are wild flowers around every corner that I’ve never seen before. BUT we do still need to be dressed head-to-toe in jackets, pants and boots and would reeeally just love to have a hint of Brissie warmth so we can have a dip in the beautiful sea we stare at from our balcony each day.
I sometimes look up from the kitchen and see a full coffee shop with such a variety of humans scattered around the room and it feels like a big ol’ dream.
Tell us about the community that’s built up around you.
Hobart is all about community – it’s warm and welcoming and like nothing I’ve ever experienced! I’ve loved how Sunbear has attracted all types of people, which was a true goal of mine. I wanted it to be a communal space where everyone feels welcome – from uni students to mums and their babes, and from elderly people looking for a good scone to creatives after a spot to get comfy and work on a project. I sometimes look up from the kitchen and see a full coffee shop with such a variety of humans scattered around the room and it feels like a big ol’ dream.
In what ways you think food and drink helps bring people together?
It’s an enabler of conversation and a common desire and craving. I love when people ask me to cut their pastry in half so they can share it with their coffee date, or they squabble with their friend at the counter over who’s going to buy the coffee this time round.
Having said that, there’s also something really special to be said about how it also allows people to be solo in a public space. Sometimes I’ll look around and there are many solo guests enjoying their coffee and treat while tucked into a good book – doing this on their own but amongst others. I really like that part of it too.
How you give back to your community? Do you hold any events?
Hosting events is a big thing I’d like to focus on next year, and keeping the space flexible in layout was was part of my thinking when designing the space. I’d love Sunbear to be a platform for creatives – think readings and exhibits and workshops, and also a collective space for people to come together and share ideas – think book clubs, round tables and maybe a Hobart PepTalks!
We’re working hard to establish relationships with growers and suppliers, which has been a really special part of the journey. The access to product down here is incredible – Tassie is a sea of experts! Being a platform for customers to enjoy local produce is important too and I make sure to note of this on the menu – for example, when a dish contains ‘Suzi’s radish’. Yum!
And what about your staff – what do you look for when hiring people?
Sunbear is a team of five women, including myself and my Mum! I look for good people who add warmth to the space, who care about the work they put out, and who have similar values, including being welcoming to everyone and being environmentally friendly in their practice. For example, as a team we’re conscious of the waste we create and dispose of it carefully, and we work together to ensure a positive customer experience because we all genuinely care about those things. After a few months now, we’re really finding our groove and it feels so good.
What sustainable practices do you incorporate into the business? And why do you think sustainability is important?
Waste is the biggest and most obvious issue when it comes to running a sustainably conscious coffee shop, and we take this into consideration all day, every day. Some examples of this are that we’re more happy to run out of menu items, rather than over compensate and then need to dispose of food; we consciously dispose of waste through separating soft plastics, recycling, composting and landfill; we make sure we rinse and clean our recycling and stick to the guidelines; we encourage our customers to bring reusable items such as cups and containers; and we make as many condiments and seasonings in-house to avoid needing to buy it in packaging, including our dukkah, hummus and relish.
As a coffee shop we exist to only add value to the community.
It doesn’t make sense to me to not operate this way. As a coffee shop we exist to only add value to the community – we want it to be better off for us opening our doors each day. Taking things into account such as sourcing locally, supporting community initiatives and limiting our waste is the only way to do this.
Tell us about the fit-out of Sunbear – where did you source everything, and how did you choose the artworks?
Fitting out Sunbear is a time I will always look back on as a lot of fun! I essentially designed the space as I would my house – I wanted it to feel like you’d popped over to my place and you could make yourself right at home.
I thrifted my way around Hobart, sourcing almost everything secondhand, including the crockery, furniture, timber, counters and cookware. Even the poles and brushes we used to paint the space were bought secondhand from an old painter! My addiction to hoarding second-hand bits and bobs still occurs daily – it’s hard to pass an op shop without stopping in. Hobart’s a second-hand shopping treasure chest.
I have two pieces of art on the wall and am currently seeking my third. The first was a commissioned piece by dear friend and talented artist Kim Leutwyler, and the second by an idol and national icon, Michael Leunig. Leunig’s piece is titled ‘Simple Pleasures’ and it represents Sunbear perfectly – we’re a homely space to enjoy those simple pleasures of a good cuppa and sandwich with a friend or a book.
What do you love most about your job?
That it’s not a job and instead it’s simply what I spend my days doing. I no longer receive a pay check each week like I always have with my past jobs (eek!) so what am I getting out of it? I absolutely love looking after people – I love that people come to Sunbear and their day is that bit better for it. It’s incredibly delightful. Ben (my partner) tells me he’s never seen me smile the way I do when I’m at Sunbear!
How do you fill your own cup?
Sundays are my days to just be ‘Brooke’. This is usually made up of coffee and breakfast at home, going to the markets, dog walks and day trips with Ben to explore this beautiful new home of ours. As all consuming as Sunbear has been, I’m finally nestling into a good groove and have picked up a book for the first time in six month. I’ve also been rock climbing and can actually switch off here and there. So, that feels really nice.
Finally, what’s your coffee order?
A silky flat white made by Hayleigh when she arrives each morning in my special little cup. She knows 🙂