When something happens organically and you let it nurture itself, in turn becoming something greater than you actually perceived, it’s surely a great piece of work?
A couple that would agree with this ethos is Mitch and Nerissa McCluskey, co-owners of Mermaid Beach’s Etsu Izakaya, Burleigh’s Commune café, and also behind Exotic Pets Presents, AKA Broadbeach’s pop-up bar, Aloha. Now the first thing that will strike you about these two are their beaming smiles, and perhaps rightly so. The pair are Gold Coast born and bred and have lived that sun-drenched, sandy-toed life we all adore.
The smiles don’t end there; the duo are orchestrators of the aforementioned hospitality hotspots and pushing the bar in that field has brought them great success, but also ultimately, happiness. Mitch found himself working his way through the ranks at Sea World Resort before side-stepping into restaurants and Nerissa knows her way ‘round a coffee machine, even moving away for stints in Melbourne and Sydney.
This ethos of letting things progress naturally and without huge pressure or expectation has actually put them very much in a top spot. So, on a slightly chillier morning of late Metropolist caught up with Mitch and Nerissa at Commune and had a good ol’ chat. Although the air was somewhat cold, the mood was anything but!
What do you love most about living on the Gold Coast?
Nerissa: It’s so cruisy, a nice lifestyle. You can’t not like the Gold Coast! I love the relaxed nature of it all; it’s just different to anywhere else.
Mitch: We used to be perceived for glitz and glamour, say around Main Beach. Now I think we have a nice vibe and have found how we should be portraying the Gold Coast to others. This is the environment I love.
Aside from your own venues, where are your fave spots for eats, coffee, and drinks?
Mitch: For coffee we often go to No Name Lane in Broadbeach, plus there’s All Time in Mermaid who also do good coffee. We go to Alfred’s too, their burritos are SO good! Double Barrel is a new spot in Mermaid Waters and we’ve been there a bit recently.
Nerissa: For dinner we usually head to Social Eating House, for their lamb shoulder. For something more casual, we go to see our friends at Bonita Bonita. It’s nice and easy and their food is always super fresh. Great vibes there, too. Glenelg Public House is another top dinner spot; we sometimes end up there for extended Sunday lunches. Oh, and Cambus Wallace… soooo good down there in Nobbys.
Etsu Izakaya is innovative and Commune is an institution. What has been the inspiration and drive behind each?
Nerissa: Commune came about because, at the time, we were both not enjoying our jobs. We’ve always worked hospo to get out of hospo! Eventually we both just realised this is what we are good at, and what we actually like. We were driving home one day through North Burleigh and looked down and saw the “for lease” sign. We just thought: let’s see if we can open a place, let’s ring them and see what rent is like. It came through just as we had big plans to go to Paris, but we still went. My dad was here and helped organise everything.
Mitch: After two years running Commune, we began to take snowboarding holidays to Japan every year. We visited a really good spot in Niseko and it inspired us. We found the perfect place here, told our customers at Commune and it just grew; mainly through word of mouth. We haven’t really advertised at all. It’s interesting watching them grow like that; you can’t change them, you just have to grow with them.
What’s your take on the Gold Coast dining scene?
Nerissa: Gold Coast’s dining scene is getting massive now, and varied in style. There are lots of nice casual places and fine dining restaurants, which makes for a really lovely mix.
Mitch: There’s just more variety now and the level of service is improving; it’s getting better and better as customers expectations rise. Even suppliers are getting better, being more informed and just generally available. It’s simply a good time to be involved in this industry on the Gold Coast!
What new openings have really caught your eye of late, and could you recommend?
Nerissa: Jimmy Wah’s for sure. Some friends of ours are opening a Chinese restaurant on Chevron Island called Fu Manchu; that’s definitely exciting, the fit-out is looking really cool.
Mitch: Again, Glenelg Public House and new spot, Double Barrel Kitchen; the latter will be opening for dinner soon.
What’s the best advice someone has ever given you?
Nerissa: “Just do it”, from my mum.
Mitch: “The customer is always right”, my old boss would say. I’m from a slightly old-school hospitality background, also that the customer is ultimately paying the bills and your wages.
What have been the biggest challenges, and the most fun?
Nerissa: When good staff leave and move on; it’s that shock factor. But you move past it and you’re happy for them as well.
Mitch: I think more places opening is obviously a challenge, but we see it in a positive light as well. It makes us constantly research and “up our game”. Be it new menus, furniture or staff training, it just makes our venues better and better. For us, that’s also the fun part!
If you could open any kind of hospo venue anywhere in the world, where and what would it be?
Nerissa: Maybe a mini Commune in a Japanese ski resort, like Niseko! (laughs)
Mitch: I’d like a mini Etsu in the same place; snowboard all day and work at night. That would be perfect.
Tell us something about you that nobody knows.
Mitch: I’ve always wanted to be a singer. I’ve got a shocking voice but I’ve always wanted to sing!
What are your favourite ways to distress on the Gold Coast?
Nerissa: Riding our bikes around on a sunny day.
Mitch: Hot yoga; we try and go three times a week. The pop-up venues are going to keep us creative and interested too.
If you could take a vacation anywhere tomorrow, where would you go?
Nerissa: Snow! Snowboarding! Japan for sure. We’re also off to NZ in a couple of weeks.
Mitch: I’d love to go to Italy for the food. It’s definitely on the draw card, to eat our way around the country.
Nerissa: We have to start developing our next pop-up soon. That’s definitely next! We’ve got plenty of ideas but it has to be right, we’re not going to force anything because I think it just wouldn’t work. If it’s easy to do, then it’s more than likely the right thing to pursue.
Want more? Check out our five-minute chat with Justin Lane’s Adam Haralampou.
Photo Credit: Brooke Darling for Metropolist