GEMMA HOLDEN - THE BLACKBIRD, NEWSTEAD
I grew up in a village sandwiched between Oxford and Milton Keynes in the United Kingdom. After high school, I went straight to university in London where I spent the next 9 years studying and working. I loved London but after the financial crisis I decided to take a leap of faith and embarked on a dream to visit wineries across the world and ended up in Australia, where I met Darren, who grew up in Mount Gambier. His first job was as a shoe salesman and to this day he still shows the kids how to put their shoes on properly. He worked as a fork lift driver for almost 10 years then made a career change when we got together.
I’ve been working since I was old enough to understand money. I earned pocket money by doing household chores and then the usual: nannying, waitressing and retail. I’ve also worked in corporate finance, the public sector, the arts and hospitality. My parents are both chefs and ran pubs in the UK. Most recently Daz and I worked together in Buckinghamshire running our own food business which involved catering, a cafe, street food and a shop. We feel very blessed to have explored the world and travelled to Europe, Asia, South America and around Australia.
The opportunity to open a cafe brought us to Newstead. We fell in love with central Victoria - the architecture, the bush land and varied terrain, the proximity to Melbourne and of course, the people. We live in Welshmans Reef with the trees, birds and kangaroos as our neighbours. We absolutely adore our home and feel very lucky to have found such an idyllic spot with a vineyard to boot! Initially I thought this region was just hot and dry, but six months in we are seeing a completely different side to the area. Gone are the days of swimming at the local pool and we are now exploring our area even more and making the most of the gorgeous green countryside and chillier days.
We started working to open the cafe in June of last year, filing our application to the council. It has been over 12 months of blood, sweat and tears. We should have had a camera crew follow us with all the ups and downs; sometimes comedy (Darren having to reinforce the bearers under the wooden floorboards) and sometimes tragedy (being so restricted due to the various building caveats.) We considered giving up most days; an old building full of charm can be a real financial burden. We had this pipe dream of coming to Australia and running a cafe when our eldest child was ready to start school so we had been saving for many years. Frightening delays, budget explosion and the cost of living meant we had to lean on our parents.
In the process, we have learnt to double all quotes, even for the smallest amount of work, such as installing a plug, fixing a drain, mending a hole or writing a report and that most of your troubles can be put into perspective by the things that truly matter; family, health and happiness. At the end of the day, we are just trying to run a small cafe in a country town. We’re not heart surgeons saving lives.
The Blackbird Newstead would never have been built without the support of the local community. It has literally taken a village to get that building up to commercial standards! Now when they visit, they can expect a warm and welcoming cafe simple yet delicious food and drink (In my opinion, the best thing on the menu at the moment is the bacon naan with turmeric eggs
Advice for people starting their own business: Keep believing that you can make it happen. Be prepared to work very, very hard to make your dream a reality. Surround yourself with good people and nurture and encourage your team. Running a cafe is so much more than just the food and drink.
Favourite things to do in the area: Bush walking in Hepburn Springs. We’ve taken the kids out at different times during the year and every time it has been so beautiful and wonderful to be outside and breathing fresh air.
The Blackbird Newstead is open Thursday - Sunday 8.30am- 4.pm
16 Lyons St, Newstead