Clunes Store, in the picturesque northern NSW village of Clunes, is a lot more than simply a store – it’s also a boutique cellar, a post office and a thriving cafe that’s become a central meeting point for the local community. We spoke to cafe manager and barista Matt Connolly about his working day, and why people travel from far and wide to visit…
4.45am // I’m up bright and early – there’s definitely no time for morning jogs or early gym sessions before work, that’s for sure! I started working in hospitality as a side job, and four years later I’m still loving it. It’s the social aspect I really like – I love chatting to customers and the crew I get to work with. Plus the cafe is outdoors, and nothing beats being able to do what I do and be out in the fresh air.
5.15-5.20am // I’m generally the first one to arrive. I set up the coffee machine for the day, then make sure everything’s stocked and ready and set the tables for when the kitchen opens. The store itself was founded way back in 1891 and the current owners, Karen and Bryan Dixon, took over in 2010. Throughout both the store and the cafe they try to source products and produce that are local and have a story behind them. A nearby potter – Brooke Clunie from Red Door Studio – makes amazing reusable coffee cups that we sell here, and our cellar is the cellar door for Jilly Wines – a small-batch winemaker founded by Karen and Bryan’s son, Jared. The store also stocks independent natural wines along with local craft beer and cider on tap, so people can come fill up their own bottles.
7-8am // This is when the ‘tradie rush’ hits. The café rarely has a dead moment, and it’s always great seeing the locals come back each morning for their caffeine and breakfast fix! My food philosophy is ‘feed the soul, nourish the body’. We like to change our menu seasonally and offer specials – we’re super lucky to have the store next door, so we can easily use produce from the area in our daily cooking. We use a lot of local suppliers who bring us avocados, pineapples, blueberries, fresh herbs, locally butchered meat and free-range eggs. The store also has a bulk-food section filled with local, organic and spray-free options, meaning we can help people go as waste-free as possible.
8.30-9.30am // The pre- and post-school rush happens around now. It’s a true testament to the venue that the same people come back day in, day out. The general store and café is such a great meeting point for locals that it’s created a big Clunes family! We also have customers come from everywhere – some people drive hours to come visit us. We’re all about fuelling the community however we can – whether that’s serving coffee, giving someone a letter from their loved one (there’s no street postal delivery in Clunes, so coming to us is the only way to get mail!) or hosting events that bring the community together.
10.30am // We try and get our breaks in mid-to late morning, just in time for brunch. Everyone loves a smashed avo so of course that’s a winner, but our halloumi bruschetta is amazing and the ‘classic beggy’ (bacon & egg roll) is an all-day favourite too. Seeing people walk away satisfied with their visit is second-to-none.
1.30pm // The kitchen closes now, but some days we’re still serving customers to 2.30 and beyond. Since opening we’ve had lots of good feedback from the local community – a lot of long-term residents of Clunes have made contact with other villagers through the cafe, and there’s always a business meeting going on or a mum’s group catching up. It really is the central hub for the community. Once I’ve cleaned the coffee machine and restocked all-things coffee for the next day I head off – and being near the beach, nothing beats an after-work surf!