with Ally Richardson

Oct 18, 2020

We caught up with Ally Richardson from former Driftwood Coffee & Eatery to find out what goes into making the perfect cup of coffee and how she went about establishing the #1 café in the quiet Victorian seaside town of Port Fairy. We also got the inside scoop on how Ally was approached by Blair Robinson & Sally Riches, to be part of the team behind the newly refurbished pub now called The Oak & Anchor Hotel.

Thanks for catching up with us Ally. You owned Driftwood for almost 3 years, when did you first know you wanted to own your own business?

It was really early on. I remember writing down the goal of owning my own café when I started my traineeship. I was 17 at the time. I come from a quietly competitive family in the most humbling way possible. My brother has always thrived in sport and my sister is very academic, studying midwifery. I always knew I wanted to own my own café. It was never a restaurant. From the very beginning I knew I liked having the nights to myself and interacting with people during the day.

You took over the location from previous café owners. What were some of the early challenges you faced when starting your own café?

I would say the hardest challenge was trying to establish a relationship with our customers, similar to that shared by the previous owners. Port Fairy is a very small community. Everybody knows everybody. Trying to establish a friendship with everyone took time. Making small changes like our trading hours was a shock to a few customers but it didn’t take long for people to adjust. I felt like I could have flipped the café on its head within a week, but it would have been a silly move. I just had to make small changes along the way.

Coffee can be very addictive, and people can be very particular about the type of coffee they drink. What goes into making a great cup of coffee?

Coffee is certainly what keeps our customers returning. It has been one of the most critical factors to our success. It certainly comes down to the coffee beans and well trained staff. Cartel Coffee Roasters in Geelong are amazing. Their quality product combined with their service has been outstanding and a big reason behind our success. It can be really difficult to train and change the habits of staff who have worked for other cafes. All our team do their training in Geelong with our supplier and are trained to make coffee our way. Lastly our machine, La Marzocco. I think it’s the bee’s knees. It’s the original Italian work horse. I was extremely lucky that the coffee beans and the machine which I had always wanted came with the café when taking over. I am excited that both machine and beans are now being used in the new location – The Oak & Anchor Hotel.

It’s been almost 2 years since you launched and it’s safe to say that you established the best café in Port Fairy. What advice would you give someone wanting to start their own business?

You really have to be passionate about it. Don’t just do it because you think it will be easier. It’s so much easier earning a wage and leaving with no extra responsibilities. There are so many extra roles once the doors are shut, like accounting, payroll and orders which consume your time outside of trading hours. It really took me the first year to get my life together, to get the hang of it all. And I think you have to rely on your gut feeling some times. I remember my parents questioning my decision early on, but I knew I always wanted to open a café in Port Fairy. Lastly, you have to learn to adapt to things. You need to understand that sometimes things don’t always turn out to plan, and that’s OK. 

You have now closed Driftwood and have relocated across the road at The Oak and Anchor Hotel. Tell us about this exciting venture.

The Oak and Anchor Hotel is the newly refurbished pub, formerly The Oak. It’s a brand new venue. An old pub which has been completely restored with 7 hotel rooms. I was approached earlier this year to join Blair and Sally in this new venture which was a great surprise.

Most of the rooms are named after Blair and Sally’s kids. Blair was the one with the vision to buy the pub and restore it to what it has become today. I am managing the cafe and bar, Jemma Lynch is managing the accommodation and events, and Sally is looking after online marketing, the website, and socials etc. It’s a great team effort.  

The max capacity we can have in the venue is 450 people. It has a beautiful outdoor space where people can have a coffee or relax over breakfast. The perfect place to stay for anybody wanting to get out of Melbourne and visit the beautiful town of Port Fairy.  

A beautiful historic fishing town and voted WATIF’s 2019 Australian Town of the Year, Port Fairy is the perfect place for a family getaway. What do you love most about the town?

Everything. It’s quietness. I’m a country girl. I grew up in Woolsthorpe about 25 mins away from Port Fairy. I love quiet, open space. Port Fairy combines a beautiful balance of a cute main street surrounded by wide open spaces. I love that the town literally has everything you need. There is no reason to leave the town and it’s all within walking distance. The community is absolutely amazing. Anybody would do anything for you. I think I love it so much because it reminds me of my hometown, just a seaside version.

What are some of your favourite local business that you support?

Port Fairy has amazing food and wine. You can have a simple kebab which is 10/10 or you can go to Conlan’s Wine Store, The Belfast or Blakes Restaurant for beautiful fine dining. The pubs, fish and chips on the beach, ice cream at Poco. The fact that people from Warrnambool come to Port Fairy is proof of how great our food scene is. We really are spoilt for choice.

Sheehan’s Meats, the local butcher, has fantastic meat. Pash + Evolve and Penny & Reiby have great clothing and gifts. Luone jewellery. I’ve never been a jewellery girl, but I was saving my pennies just to get a piece of Lucinda’s jewellery. Her stuff is amazing.

The Oak & Anchor Hotel is open 7 days a week. How do you find time to unwind?

You really need to force yourself. I didn’t have a day-off the first year I owned Driftwood. I had to learn how to relax and trust that the girls could take care of the cafe. And they did. They were amazing. I always try to have at least one day off a week. I love going for a walk, catching up with friends, going to Warrnambool and getting out of town for the day. Sunday nights are always at Mum & Dad’s for the traditional Sunday dinner. I love that time to catch up with family including my Nan and Pa. Work is work and can be full-on, but I do it so I can enjoy the time off and unwind.   

At Driftwood, you cooked all the food on site. (Your muffins are the absolute best!) What is your favourite meal to cook at home?

I live with two housemates and we all prepare our own meals. I am a pretty simple cook at home. I must admit.  When cooking for myself I don’t usually go to a lot of effort. A bit of a one-pan wonder that tastes really yummy. I enjoy cooking healthy, simple yummy food. Anything with salmon. I love gnocchi and risotto.

How many shoes do you own?

Hmmm I would probably say 20. I am a really tall girl, so I don’t usually wear heels all the time. I love low block heels.

Favourite cherrichella style?

Definitely the Whisper heel in black. I love them all, but if I have to narrow it down, I will say the Whisper sandal (pictured above).

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