Remember a time back in 1976 when it seemed like Earth ’n’ Sea pizza and Mexican Mick’s were the only two places in town? The pizza place, started by Bill Wheatley and Ian Hamilton 40 years ago, and immediately popular with surfers, has been part of the fabric in the growth of Byron, and current owners David and Denise will be celebrating in style this August, in the restaurant at the corner of Fletcher St and Byron St.
‘When we took over from Bill in 2003, I remember his turning back at the door and saying, “It’s your job now, don’t fuck it up”,’ laughs Denise. ‘I remember those words quite clearly! Because we’ve been here so long, we’ve seen it all… people on their first dates, people proposing and even marrying in the restaurant…’
David recalls serving a table of Finnish people who, ten years previously, were all around the table as friends, and then returned ten years later with all their own children. ‘It’s almost an evolutionary thing where people come as kids, and then return with their own kids,’ David says. ‘We find a lot of local people, whose children might have shifted away to Sydney, often return to Earth ’n’ Sea with three generations as that’s a place they all remember.’
The purchase of Earth ’n’ Sea was completely fortuitous. Denise says, ‘We were sitting in Mokha one day when David spied Earth ’n’ Sea over my shoulder. “That’s the business for us,” said David, but it wasn’t listed for sale anywhere.’ Approaching Chris Hanley, from Byron Bay First National, the only real estate agent in his office over Easter, they found that he had only one business on his books, Earth ’n’ Sea, that Bill had put on the market only two days previously.’
Added to that, in an amazing coincidence, Denise’s father and Bill Wheatley later discovered that they’d met on a ship from Hong Kong in 1972. ‘There’s a big world out there,’ says Denise. The couple have run restaurants on the island of Lesbos and 16th-century pubs in England, and David himself has been an engineer as well as currently being the Australian Historic Road Racing Champion (on a Triumph!).
‘Having such a high-profile business, we get a lot of advice, but we’ve stood the test of time,’ says Denise. ‘Bill Wheatley says he’s sick of people telling him the pizzas taste better now, but we think consistency is the key to our success. That’s why it’s such a big deal that, in August, locals are creating and naming the first new pizza in ten years.
‘It helps that we have staff who’ve been here since we took over, such as Terry Wilcocks (whose spectacular photos of the Community Centre and The Pass cover entire walls of the restaurant), who has worked here for more than 25 years.
For more details on the celebrations see Earth’n’Sea Pizza Byron Bay’s Facebook page.