Escaping the hustle of the big city and moving to the Coffs Coast is the dream of many people. Paul and Victoria Harper happened upon an amazing business opportunity, which led to them successfully opening the Cedar Bar in Bellingen. they are living the dream …
Can you tell us a bit about your connection to the Coffs Coast?
Twelve years ago, in Sydney, I met Victoria, who was born and raised on the Coffs Coast. We have visited the area several times a year over that period. We talked for years about leaving Sydney, and the Mid North Coast was full of great memories for us both, then this business opportunity developed very quickly – so we jumped.
When did you start the business?
We opened the doors as Cedar Bar & Kitchen in mid December 2015. After months of setup and planning, we really wanted to start serving customers and getting some experience before the Christmas and January rush. To add to the excitement, Victoria gave birth to our twin girls three days after opening. So needless to say, the last nine months has flown by. With support from family, friends, our staff and customers, it has made the exhaustion lots of fun.
What inspired you to start Cedar Bar & Kitchen?
Aside from our love of food and wine, we fell in love with the 108 year old building and thought the space would be perfect for a restaurant and the large hall, ideal for functions. “The Old Church,” as people lovingly call her, really is beautiful, with 7-metre high ceilings and original stained glass windows; she has an incredible aura, which we knew would appeal to customers. Venues that have inspired us include The Grounds in Alexandria, The Farm in Byron and Harvest at Newrybar. We wanted to create an atmosphere where people can enjoy an affordable dining experience, function or wedding.
Have you had past experience in hospitality or is this new ground for you?
This is a new venture for both of us. Victoria, with her background in marketing and events, and me with a sales and consulting career also having run my own business previously, I feel we both bring skills that translate really well to the management as well as the customer experience focus of what we are achieving here. When we were married two years ago, we found that experience of choosing a wedding venue very impersonal – we were handed a wedding pack with pricing, and that was it: “like it, or leave it”. We want to work with couples to create their own unique celebration. We understand that it is probably the most expensive party you will ever throw yourselves, so you want it to be right!
How would you describe Cedar, and what are the key elements that attract your patrons?
We set out to build a venue that Victoria and I would want to sit and relax if we were going out. We are like most people, so we’ve tried to create a space which is inviting for everyone, that profiles local food in a simple yet tasty way, a small changing wine list, relaxed surrounds and friendly staff. We also wanted to create a regular hang out for locals, through our pricing and that we offer most wines by the glass, also changing our menu seasonally; we aim to keep regulars coming back.
Is there a theme or style of food on the menu?
Our style changes with the season and what produce is locally available. Customers have described the food as honest, clean and fresh. If we have a great idea to bring a Spanish influence to a dish, then we will. If we feel that the Snapper is best served with an Asian sauce, then we’ll do that too. Ultimately we believe in produce that comes straight from the ground, branch or beast, we believe in sourcing local, sourcing what is in season and then making everything from base ingredients, in-house. Since opening, I’ve slowly been able to build relationships with local producers for our pasture raised eggs, buffalo milk haloumi, micro-leaf greens, amongst others.
Most importantly, our team of chefs are foodies too, and we bake all of our cakes and treats in-house, including gluten-free options.
Are you open from breakfast to dinner?
We are open seven days, serving all day breakfast and lunch, plus dinner from Thursday to Saturday.
Do you have live music for entertainment at times?
We were so glad to be a major venue for this year’s Bellingen Winter Music Festival. Since then we’ve hosted a handful of live gigs, including live music every Friday night, and have more local, national and international acts planned for the coming months.
What are you plans for the future of the business?
We plan to be a buzzing event destination, create custom weddings and host unique functions. We are throwing a huge Melbourne Cup celebration in November, and tickets are selling fast. We want to be the first place people think of when they consider having a party or event. We encourage everyone to drop in for breakfast, lunch, dinner or a drink, and see what we’re doing with the space.
What do you love about the Bellingen area?
The people here make it a great place to be. As new parents, we love having the opportunity to raise our girls in the wonderful Bellingen community. We also love the local food scene and are passionate about contributing to the vibrant culture.