Lisa Jamieson likens her business The Boulevard Café at Victor Harbor to a cross between hospitality and being a carer … and as one of her customers drops off a can of biscuits to say “thanks” it’s easy to see why.
Lisa and husband, Chris Roberts, may have been business owners for only 20 months, but already they have made their mark on the Victor Harbor hospitality industry and changed the fortunes of the lakeside café.
I felt very fortunate to have sat with Lisa for over an hour as it’s clear she’s a busy person. Not only does she run the café, but she’s also a mother of two toddlers and a teenager and, as if that’s not enough on her plate, she also works at a local aged care facility.
The husband and wife team is not your usual arrangement either. For, although Chris is a chef by trade, he is a fly in fly out tyre fitter at Roxby Downs too, working on a week on, week off basis. The aim is that one day Chris may be able to join the business fulltime in the future.
As a workaholic myself, and often finding there’s not enough hours in the day, I’m curious to know how she juggles and copes with so many things.
“Denial and stubbornness,” she says are the things that keep her going.
“I look forward briefly and plan and then don’t look too far ahead.
“I’m a lists person,” she says pointing to her well-worn diary.
In terms of their children the couple utilise daycare as little as possible and are supported by a family friend and a babysitter. With Chris’s work, rosters are tweaked to ensure as much family time as possible is included.
“We are trying for a better work-life balance. Quality of time spent together is more important than the amount of time.”
She is also very grateful to her staff who provide her with a great deal of support, not just as staff working in the business, but in offering her personal support, particularly when Chris is away or when it seems things are just getting a bit much.
“I’m very upfront with staff. And they will let me know if they think I need to take a break and go home.
“They know I will have their back first.
“If there’s anything I need to deal with in relation to staff, it will be dealt with behind closed doors, not in front of customers.”
Her recruitment process relies heavily on first impressions.
“We get a lot of walk-ins and I look at how they approach and how they speak, whether they maintain eye contact,” Lisa shares.
“For us we don’t necessarily need a full skill set, we need personality.
“I’ve learned it’s important to identify the staff’s limits and be okay with that.
“One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received is to stop expecting more of people than what they are capable of giving.
“For us, one of the most important things is that they can treat the customers as if they’re family.”
Before taking on the Encounter Bay business Lisa had accumulated over 15 years’ experience in different management roles in the hospitality, administration and accounting areas. She met Chris while working at Roxby Downs where, among other roles, she was the fixed assets and project accountant for BHP.
“I thought: I’m not doing this for someone else anymore. I’m sick of building up businesses for someone else and putting my heart and soul into it,” Lisa tells of her reasons for going into business.
“I thought Victor Harbor had enough sustainability and we wanted to put everything we had into our own business.”
Lisa holds a Certificate IV in Finance and, now, having to prepare monthly BAS and quarterly PAYG reports, as well as manage the business, she’s grateful for that background and training.
The couple visited friends on Hindmarsh Island eight years ago and fell in love with the place, determined to eventually move to the region, which they did in 2014.
It was then that Lisa took her first step into aged care, not only helping care for a dying father, but also working at a local nursing home.
She also started a small food preparation business from home, Bikkies & Bites, selling products at markets and various outlets, including The Boulevard Café, which put her in touch with former café owners Ian and Di Sherrah.
The plan then evolved that Lisa and Chris would aim to take over the business in April 2018, but a range of circumstances changed that timeline and the takeover occurred officially on 1 February 2016.
“I remember getting the call from Di and Ian in October 2015 when my father had just died,” Lisa recalls.
“Although the timing wasn’t right, I thought, “How do you say ‘no’ to a place that’s fully licensed with so much potential?”.
“I often think my dad gave it a little push as he went.”
Thanks to help from Chris’s family, the couple were able to purchase the business and have not looked back.
When you ask Lisa what the secret is to the successful revival of the café she proudly says she “breaks all the rules” when it comes to the traditional hospitality industry. There’s usually no paying extra for changing items on the menu, for instance. People can ask for items that aren’t even on the menu and if they can make it they will.
“Sometimes the reward is bigger than money,” she said.
And the relationship with customers has been a key factor too.
Lisa tells stories of organising chef Simon Howell to make a Dutch casserole because a regular customer had a visitor from Holland; this is the source of the tin of biscuits delivered during our interview.
They’ve even sourced and prepared lamb’s brains for a terminally-ill woman in a local nursing home and organised for meals to be sent home to customers too.
And, if you’re a regular and haven’t been seen in the café for a while, don’t be surprised if you get a phone call or a visit too to check on your welfare.
Each year a complimentary “family” barbecue is held for their customers. Last year it was attended by over 70 people and this year’s is expected to be even bigger.
Local organisations and causes have been big beneficiaries with over $5000 being raised by the café in the past 20 months. This figure doesn’t include the countless donations of vouchers and food that have been made, just the fundraising that has been initiated by Lisa and her team.
Her passion for everything local is also a key aspect of the business. The café is also an outlet for a wide range of local products and local artwork.
Lisa is very grateful for the strength and balance of her and Chris’s relationship to have made the venture a success.
“He has been very supportive. He knows that if I put something forward I’ve given it loads of thought and worked out things before I’ve put it to him,” she said.
Whilst acknowledging she is fairly new to business ownership, Lisa has gained some insights that may come in handy for others.
- Don’t be afraid to change the rules.
- Be true to yourself.
- Have the right staff and make sure they share your vision.