Managing to feed the soul

Kaine Hunt head chef and Ben Kirkwood owner.

Kaine Hunt head chef and Ben Kirkwood owner.

Matthew Michaelis

We humans are sentient beings and when it comes to sitting in someone else’s space, I know I get the jitters if the overall atmosphere is unfriendly, stiff or uncomfortable.

Staff who look and feel like they are ‘special’ in some regard are just showing a strong sense of esteem, though when a wait team start projecting that they are privileged and the customer becomes an inconvenience in some regard – then it’s time to redress the balance.

Over the years I’ve observed various staff teams in some of the most luxurious eateries and, having met many of their owners and managers, I realise that it’s really a matter of the buck stopping at the head of the business.

If the management is difficult and belligerent often that’s passed on down the line.

Enter a hierarchy that’s successfully feeding the souls of its staff and therefore its punters: the Beach Cafe in Byron Bay. Ben Kirkwood and his partner Belinda head up this award-winning cafe restaurant. Collaboration is the credo at the Beach Cafe, Ben told me recently.

They each have their roles here: Belinda is the events manager, Ben, the general manager, Steven Kirkpatrick ex-Icebergs Bondi is operations manager, Kaine Hunt is the head chef and David Fiumara his 2IC.

‘The whole team are included in the shaping of this busy eatery. Making decisions that impact on the overall environment here is very much an inclusive and collaborative process and at the same time we’re working the procedures, the menu and feel of the place in a team,’ Ben said.

kitchen-beach‘I also have a realisation that people need to live and the hospitality industry can be particularly relentless, so here we make sure everyone is balancing their work and their lives. If you don’t, everyone loses – it’s really feeding the soul that keeps inspiration and energy coming back to us,’ Ben added.

Ben appears to be all over the fact that their team are their future and that their future is in the hands of their team. It’s a chicken–egg thing with a rooster thrown in. And although Ben’s the rooster in this analogy, he relies comfortably on the skill and acumen of those around him.

Kaine Hunt comes from a good and strong hospitality background, coming from Longrain in Sydney, a two-hatted restaurant; ‘My wife and I moved up here for the lifestyle and to raise our child on some land. We both have hospitality in our blood and the relationship with the Beach Cafe and our plot of dirt is exactly why we are now living here,’ Kaine said.

‘I’m constantly sourcing specialist ingredients to complement the menu. Inspiration comes from what’s in season and available at the local farmers market. Supporting local produce is a passion of mine; it adds fresh and original content,’ Kaine added.

Steven Kirkpatrick is operations manager, and has an equally relevant background to keep the standards and service in place and the Beach Cafe at the height that it reaches year in year out. As the systems person here, he appears to have an eye for detail that can’t be ignored – ‘systems are put in place after the collaborative process and the team are all across these,’ Steven said.

Ben knows that he owns a position as much as a restaurant cafe, but he’s not sitting on his hands. He wants his staff to feel they have a life away from the Beach Cafe, an unusual position to take for an individual in the impersonal world of business.

Clearly it’s a decision that is working very well at the Beach Cafe with a team that are feeding their customers with a little bit more energy and soul – it’s an award-winning paradigm.

The Beach Cafe is fully licensed, is opened every day for breakfast from 7.30am until 11am (11am–12noon: limited menu); 12 noon until 3pm for lunch (3–5pm: limited menu). Dinner is from 5pm.

Bookings are advised – phone 6685 8400. Available for weddings and events.

Clarkes Beach, Lawson Street Byron Bay


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