Sometimes a coffee simply isn’t enough. Sometimes a sweet pastry is also necessary.
A couple with similar thoughts is Ursula and Ben Watts; the faces behind Paddock Bakery, Paddock’s Tallebudgera Creek pop-up, and Bam Bam Bakehouse. Both born and raised within two kilometres of each other in Gold Coast’s Guanaba, the pair is now happily married and parents to two lively little nippers. Ben is a chippy by trade and Ursula an interior designer, therefore these guys were already semi-equipped with the skills to open some potentially knock-out cafes. Yet, in the beginning, both had no hospo experience at all.
So, where did their inspiration come from? They tell of a 12-month trip around Far North Queensland and the Northern Territory: swags, 4x4, boat, and not a lot else. The pair spent much time deliberating ideas around the campfire and under the stars while living off bare essentials. With no distractions, they were able to really weigh up the feasibility of opening their very own cafe.
On returning, Paddock Bakery was opened January 2014 after nine months of preparation and building work, with Bam Bam following two years later, opening late 2015. Their newest edition is the Paddock pop-up kiosk on the south side of Tallebudgera Creek. Curious to learn more about the geniuses behind some of the best cafes on the Gold Coast, we decided to hunt down Ursula and Ben and throw some questions their way.
First up, what do love most about living on the Gold Coast?
Ursula: Hmm, the glitter strip?! Nah, I think it has to be the simplicity of it really.
Ben: Yeah, it’s not a mad city by any means. It has beautiful beaches, beautiful countryside, swimming holes, and everything is pretty much within an hour of here. It’s also laid back; we have awesome weather and plenty of opportunities.
Opening Paddock Bakery was somewhat of a risk for a young couple. Can you tell us about those early days?
Ursula: Yeah, look, it was a massive risk, and it took probably a lot of passion and drive to actually make it happen. Our first son was four weeks old when we opened Paddock. There are photos of us building the cafe and his pram is in the corner! We could see the vision so clearly though, that we just weren’t fazed.
Ben: We were so ready after coming back from our trip though, that we just got on with it. I was working seven days a week, 17 hours a day on the place doing renovations. I was able to do about 80 per cent of the work myself, which really helped. Ursula was busy with the baby and helping where she could, but we were so excited that we just made it happen. We simply gave it a crack!
What inspired you to build cafes with bakeries?
Ursula: We love carbs!
Ben: We knew that if we did something, it would need to be different. We needed something to build it around, the hook, the thing that set us apart. What we actually couldn’t get at the time was good bread. There are a few places doing it now, but back then there wasn’t any really good artisan-style bread out there. So we decided to do it around bread. What we have here (Paddock) is a 90-year-old house and we are baking bread how they would have about 200 years ago. It all goes along with that vibe and the public gets to see that process as well. We want people to see into our kitchens and see that we are trying to do everything right.
Bam Bam and Paddock are different characters; what has been your inspiration behind each?
Ben: With Bam Bam, we wanted to do something very different to Paddock; a different look. It’s a lot cleaner, industrial looking and the food is also different—it’s more a la carte.
Ursula: I guess we wanted to create different places but still with some hints of colour and look, so you could potentially see the same people owned both. We did want to make them unique though, so if you went to Paddock one morning and then Bam Bam the next you wouldn’t feel like you’d been to the same place. With Bam Bam, the inspiration behind that was pastry, and that’s what we are known for there. We do different baked goods in each to help keep them different to one another.
What’s your secret to keep customers coming back for more?
Ben: We just try and do it right, every time. People often have to stand in a queue at either place, ensuring they get the freshest, hottest quality product we can; we want people to come back over and over again. We like everything fresh. Also, we don’t do pre-cooked stuff at all. We bake three times a day, most days, meaning stuff like doughnuts and muffins are never more than four hours old.
Ursula: It does mean customers have to wait sometimes, potentially five or 10 minutes more than somewhere else, but at the end of it, it’s more than often what you wanted and ultimately, what you paid for.
What are your favourite places to eat and drink on the Coast?
Ben: Coffee would have to be Good Day at Tugun; they always do a good job there.
Ursula: The Oriental Bakery in Mermaid Beach does really good pork buns, if you haven’t tried one go check it out!
Ben: We go to Wazen a fair bit, down in Tallebudgera; really fresh, nice people, and great sushi. We don’t go out too much at night with the kids! Also, we do the odd lunch session at Rick Shores, sometimes with a cheeky cocktail.
Being successful it might be easy to sit back and do nothing more. What motivates you to keep pushing things?
Ursula: Hmmmm, I guess we just love it! We love creating something for people from scratch to completion.
Ben: We like to try and make things better, not so much fix things, but just trying to be even better at what we do. When people tell you how good your food and coffee is, that’s what you’re chasing. That’s really what it’s all about.
On a rare day off, what would be your perfect day?
Ursula: Taking the kids down to Tallebudgera creek, grabbing a paddleboard and just enjoying the good weather.
Ben: Yeah, the kids love it down there. When it’s high tide, the water is crystal clear, and with Burleigh Headland right there… it’s a special spot to spend time.
Do you have any advice for people thinking about taking the plunge and doing something similar?
Ben: Be confident in your offerings and your ideas. Be completely aware of what the very worst outcome could be, and be prepared to live with that, if it does happen.
If you could open any kind of venue, anywhere in the world, what and where would it be?
Ben: Bit of a pipedream, but we sometimes talk about how we would open a cafe in New York. You know, the hectic busy culture, the food and coffee over there is exploding at the minute; because I think we are quite far ahead in that respect, down here in Australia.
So… About that visit from Margot Robbie…
Ursula: Yeah, she is such a babe. It was so awesome to have her at Bam Bam. So, we all now know that she came home to the Gold Coast to get married. She’s a fan of both Paddock and Bam Bam and we helped set her up with a hen’s party-inspired Friday night at Bam Bam, with just five of her besties.
Ben: They made their own pastries, cooked them and filled them with custard etc. She’s quite the talented baker!
Ursula: The following day we also catered for her official hen’s party day, which was really cool also. It was great exposure for us and we were very lucky.
For now, we’re busy loving family life. With two little groms (four years and two years) there’s some serious skate park time being put in to keep them burning energy. We’re excited to see the Paddock Pop-up down on Tallebudgera Creek continue to grow, with a few exciting things in the pipeline to come shortly. You’ll be the first to know!
Photo Credit: Brooke Darling for Metropolist