“I am boss of everything,” jokes Kym Strow, one half of the couple behind Lismore café, Flock Espresso and Eats.
“She’s the whip holder,” agrees her partner, Sarah Jones. “I’m the organised practical one and Kym’s the ideas lady, the creative one.”
“She’s the breaks, aren’t you babe?,” laughs Kym.
Sarah is the barista and taste tester at the popular café that has recently reopened in Lismore following the March 31 Flood. The cooking was Kym’s job, but in their new space she’s had to let go the reins a bit and hire some chefs.
“With a space this size I can’t be in the kitchen and in control of the floor and engaged with customers,” she says.
Like many in Lismore, Kym and Sarah weren’t prepared for the amount of damage caused by the recent flood. Only having lived in the region for 5 years, they were naïve about the extent of the destruction the overgrown river would cause.
“We were still really busy that day and all of a sudden there was no-one,” Sarah says. “We heard people talking about the water going over the levy, so we lifted things onto the tables, and the drains in the back alley started blocking up.”
“We weren’t prepared for not being able to open back there,” Kym says. “We thought within a week we’d be back in business.”
But the damage was too severe: chest height water had left a wreck of asbestos, cracked pipes, twisted walls and bent steel.
Within days Kym and Sarah realised they weren’t going to be able to reopen, and they were gutted.
“We spent three days at home feeling really sorry for ourselves. Our family was saying move back to Brisbane or move to Melbourne, just walk away, you’ve lost everything,” Kym says.
Angry and overwhelmed, the couple hibernated, trying to gather themselves together.
“I totally crumbled, I was really devastated,” Kym says. “I wouldn’t get out of the car in town unless Sarah parked out the back.”
The idea of starting from scratch in a large vacant shop on Woodlark Street gradually took hold, and plans were made to clean the empty, muddy shell that still held the flood’s remains. The new café is four times the size of the old one, and they’ve gone from a team of 10 staff to 22. Almost everything for the fit-out has been bought locally, and the support from suppliers and tradespeople has been incredible.
Sarah grew up in Melbourne and Kym on the Sunshine Coast, and they met in Brisbane after both moving there as teenagers. Sarah had childhood dreams of owning a milkbar (for the free lollies) and Kym’s parents ran fruit and vegetable shops and delicatessens.
“I saw my parents working and thought ‘I’m never going to do that,’” Kym says. But when an accident prevented her from continuing her job as a social worker, her parents offered her an empty fruit shop to run.
Kym and Sarah got together eight years ago and their produce shop in Salisbury in Brisbane’s south grew into a successful café.
“The flood happened in 2011 and we couldn’t get any produce, so we got a coffee machine. It went crazy,” Sarah says.
“It was suburban hell and suddenly it became trendy,” Kym laughs.
After selling the café, they were drawn to the Northern Rivers by holidays they’d spent in Mullumbimby, but it was too expensive there so they settled in Wyrallah for two years, and for the last three years have been in Clunes.
Kym and Sarah rent a big house among 36 acres of bush and creek on the northern side of the village. They share it with three rescue dogs: a corgi, a whippet-cross-dalmation, and a blue heeler; and a temperamental 1973 orange Combi Van named Otis.
The couple have been engaged for six years and would love to start a family.
“We’ve been trying to have a kid and the flood really messed that up,” Kym says. “Some people say everything happens for a reason so maybe there is a reason, we just can’t see it right now.”
For now, Kym and Sarah are looking forward to re-establishing the family they’ve created with their staff and customers at the café.
“I don’t want to do anything else, I just love it,” Kym says. “You know how some people say they’ve found their passion? I’m down with mine being hospitality.”