Opening a cafe in the heart of Queanbeyan amid bushfires and a pandemic proved to be a mere speed bump after the booming eatery was last week named the best cafe at the Canberra Region Local Business Awards.
Thirty 4 cafe and restaurant was named the best by a panel of independent judges who visited 26 other cafes in Canberra and rated them on a range of criteria including ambience, food and service.
The awards also recognised 29 local businesses that won their respective categories, with Civic Shoes winning the coveted business of the year title.
For the new cafe in Queanbeyan’s Crawford Street, owner Mert Toplu and manager Huso Yilmaz said the town needed a cafe that identified with its changing population while deciding that Queanbeyan was preferable to the competitive cafe culture in Canberra.
Mr Toplu has worked as a head chef and executive chef in some of Europe’s top restaurants, as well as his home country of Turkey and in Sydney and Canberra after moving here with his wife and business partner Buket and their young family.
Thirty 4 cafe, named after a section of Turkey where Mr Toplu grew up, is also relevant as he was 34 years old when he opened the doors in Queanbeyan.
“I opened on 13 January this year while bushfires were burning all around us,” he tells Region Media on a busy Saturday morning where firefighters gather with tradesmen, women in lycra and locals who have heard about the new cafe making a mark in the town.
“Ten weeks later, COVID hit and we had to shut down after having our biggest week. We adapted by doing takeaways. We’re now running at 40 per cent more trade than our biggest week.”
There are a couple of favourites on the menu already, including the Village Bowl, which Mr Toplu describes as very representative of Queanbeyan.
“It’s a bit of everything on a plate,” he says. “It’s a bit messed up, but it’s so real and it tastes so good.”
Mr Toplu said Queanbeyan needed a cafe that reflected its country heart.
“It’s a really family-oriented cafe that you can walk to with a pram or a dog or a wheelchair and sit down and just have a coffee or nice meal.
“Opening here was the perfect opportunity to give this beautiful town a proper, quality cafe that really helps me continue with my love of cooking.”
Mr Toplu said he couldn’t be more proud of his team and the locals who have embraced the cafe that likes to keep it simple.
“It’s all about taking what you’ve learnt along the way and adapting it to where you are. This town really needs something like this but we just keep it simple and I love cooking for my regulars who come in and have the same thing every time.
“We are super proud to bring this award to our amazing town.”
Other award winners include Daana Indian restaurant head chef Sanjay Kumar who won the business person of the year award. Daana also took home three awards at the 2020 NSW/ACT Restaurant and Catering Association Awards for Excellence in Sydney.
Courgette was named the best restaurant while the youth award went to Tobias Thome of Crux Media.
The best florist was Moxom + Whitney Florist, while the best new business was Canberra Water, Gas and Air.
Owner of The Avid Organiser Bonnie Weston was named the best sole operator. Her business helps other people who own small businesses or manage projects.
Mrs Weston had already won an Altitude Award in Sydney in November as the best micro business.
“I’m pretty thrilled to have won awards with both Women with Altitude and Local Business Awards. What a way to finish such a strange year,” she said.
Truefitt & Hill was named the best hairdresser by offering more than just a close shave and stylish haircut. The Civic business also does skincare treatments, manicures and pedicures with a hint of luxury and even a selection of refreshments that includes a single malt whiskey.
You can find the full list of 29 winners on the Canberra Region Local Business Awards website.