Louis & Hugh, Emerald Beach General Store

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Brothers Louis and Hugh Riley took over the Emerald Beach General Store just over a year ago now and have been a fresh and vibrant addition to the town. With some new ideas for the future of the store, an extensive background in the hospitality industry, and plenty of cheeky humour to throw around, we think the store is in great hands.

Hi Hugh and Louis. You guys are brothers; did you grow up on the Coffs Coast? Have you both always lived here?

G’day, FOCUS legends – cheers for having a chat with us! Our family moved here sometime in ’01; prior to that we were moving around a lot with Dad’s work, bouncing around between the outback, the city and suburbia. So stoked we ended up here! 

It’s been a pretty transient life for both of us the last 10 years, but the Coffs Coast has always felt like home. We moved back about a month before taking over the shop last year. It’s good to be here.

You took over the Emerald Beach General Store not long ago; how has it been adjusting to being business owners?

Yeah, it’s been a little over a year now. Time flies! It’s been super hectic, but heaps of fun. We’ve taken to it quite well, but there’s a lot of work in a seven day business; the hours required still have us in shock occasionally! It’s stressful at times stretching your attention in multiple directions, but when you remember to take a step back, you appreciate the opportunity to serve some lovely people in an awesome little community.

What changes have you made to the store, and what has stayed the same?

The biggest change would have to be the atmosphere! The music is usually loud and swings about, depending on what we’re in the mood for; we try to have fun while we’re in there. Really, it’s about providing hospitality and making people feel welcome in a setting where most people simply expect convenience.

A lot has stayed the same, really; we have tried to take a more considered approach to the products we stock, and we’ve taken a slightly more modern and fresh approach with the food.

What are your plans for the business in the future? Are there any other changes you’d like to make moving forward?

We’ve got quite a few ideas for the future involving a focus on sustainability and seasonality in food and coffee service. But, we’re gonna take a slow approach and try to spend more time at the beach for now! 

The immediate plan is to keep it simple, do a few things well and focus on pushing the food and coffee a bit further and offer a small menu of fast, fresh meals and serve some clean and sweet specialty coffee in a friendly environment.

You are about to start on some renovations. What do you have in mind for the space?

Yeah, really keen to rip the joint up, ha ha! We’ve been making it work, but it’s an old setup that’s pretty dysfunctional, and I guess the cracks are starting to show. We don’t have a lot of coin to throw at the fit-out, so really the space will reflect the direction we’re taking with the business – keeping it simple with a clean look, brightening it up a bit and mostly try to create a welcoming space that functions well.

How have the locals received you guys and the new General Store?

I think we’ve fared pretty well so far! We love the locals here, and it feels great to have had so much support – a few cages get rattled occasionally, but most of the Emerald folk have come to expect a bit of cheek as they come through the door!

I think we came in at a time when people wanted a change, so the response has been really positive – which totally helps when sometimes it feels like we should be pushing a little harder for what we want to do. We’re lucky to live in such an open community and hope we can serve the town for years to come.

Can you tell us a bit about your backgrounds; have you both always worked in the food industry?

Yeah, for the most part. We both love travelling, and I guess hospitality was always there and generally wherever you went there’d be a new band of misfits at the bar, café or restaurant that you could call your mates. 

Mum’s cooking is epic too, so growing up with great food on the table definitely helped. I spent some years in the wine industry before moving into coffee, and I’ve always loved to cook. 

Hugh has always loved creating a vibe and running the floor; he gets along with everyone and wants you to have a good time.

Can you tell us about some of the suppliers you’re working with?

Would LOVE to. The area has some fantastic producers and a wonderful tribe of creatives who always deserve a shout out.

 Andrew from My Twin Loaves bakes us amazing bread. Naomi from Paperleaf Press stocks us with beautiful fresh flowers every Friday. Jules was one of our favourite circus instructors years ago at Zip Circus and now supplies us with amazing kimchi as The Danji Jar. Tom ferments epic Gut Instinct kombucha that we serve fresh from the tap. The gorgeous Vic creates beautiful gift cards and art prints as The Scenic Route. And Daz and Alice from New Life Farm recently started slinging us the freshest vege around.

There’s really too many to name! We are so stoked to be surrounded by so many great producers and suppliers.

What do you guys like about working together as brothers?

Ha ha, it can be a pretty high pressure environment, so it helps knowing which buttons to press! Nothing goes unsaid but we are able to get on with job and not get hung up. Seriously though, it’s been great; we are very different, but our skill sets seem to complement each other and we both know each other well enough to know when the other needs help. We haven’t spent much more than a week together in about eight years, so it’s been good to get the family dynamic back.

What have been some of the challenges in running a family business?

The hardest thing has been simply getting time to be a family. Small business is challenging, and the days are long; remembering to make time for the little things is important. Balance is always the goal.

Louis, we believe you and your partner, Bek, have some history here at the store? Can you tell us about that?

Ha ha yeah, there’s a bit of history there – a long story for another day, maybe! Basically, the cheesiest story you could imagine, in which a shiny headed teenager at the dodgy takeaway shop courts a girl way out of his league; the story is still going, with a two year old maniac in tow and another bun in the oven. Winning!

What are some of your favourite things to do here on the Coffs Coast when you do get some time away from the store?

We both love a bit of family time. Louis and Bek’s daughter is always up for a hunt for a new play park, or if it’s warm enough, a waterfall adventure. We are really spoilt for choice in awesome nature trails and waterfalls around the area. Popping into Mum and Dad’s for a bit of banter and a feed is great, or heading out to one of the epic restaurants on the northern beaches. Mostly though, we love sneaking in a surf; but if anyone asks, it’s always rubbish! Cheers!

Thanks guys.

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