Gold Coast vegan goddesses Natalie, Charlotte (Charlie) and Phoebe form a fearless girl gang unlike any other.
The driving force behind Greenhouse Canteen and Gold Coast’s newly revealed relaxation hub, The Bath House, this story of entrepreneurial success is told with down-to-earth realism, excitement and humble insights.
Sitting with these three inspirational women, we can’t help but feel completely empowered by their successes and a little star struck (keep it cool, man).
Having opened Greenhouse three years ago, Natalie is powerful, composed and poised. Joined soon after by bubbly sister Charlie and six months down the track by whimsical new BFF Phoebe, vegan meals out were forever changed on the Gold Coast by this new approach to cruelty-free dining.
Restaurant and business ownership has been a roller coaster from the beginning—with a clear emphasis on learning from mistakes, creating a strong core team and courage like you wouldn’t believe. Along with pet pig Hank, it appears that there’s no stopping this dream team. We talk handbag burgers, Gold Coast’s food scene and exciting new adventures on the horizon for Greenhouse
What were you doing before the Greenhouse days?
Natalie: I used to import vehicles from America and do Australian compliance on them. Very different to what I do now.
Charlie: I was in my second year studying journalism and PR when Nat decided to open the restaurant. So I put uni on hold and haven’t been back [laughs].
Phoebe: I was at uni studying sustainable environments and planning, majoring in design and working in hospitality. I started working at Greenhouse in Kirra, six or seven months in and I thought Natalie and Charlotte were the coolest chicks ever. And then we became best friends and never looked back.
Everyone has their own reasons for going vegan. What were yours?
Natalie: I went vegan once I realised the health benefits of a plant based lifestyle. I had always considered myself an animal lover and realised I wasn't comfortable eating them when we are lucky enough to be able to choose not to.
Phoebe: I grew up rarely eating meat, just wasn't a fan. Though it wasn't until I was studying enviro sustainability at uni that I really opened my eyes to the negative impact of factory farming and the consequences the meat and dairy industries are having on the world.At the same time I was battling a few health issues and so naturally I adopted a vegan diet as a ‘detox’ which slowly helped my body heal and then organically became my lifestyle.
Charlie: I played with vegetarianism for years as a teen, but being young and impressionable, was easily talked out of it as it appeared a hassle to those around me. But I soon realised these sentient beings didn't belong on my plate. Once you start researching... you can't stop. Animal cruelty was a big one for me and the added health benefits are a bonus. Plus, why not choose a diet that help saves our planet?
What motivated you to take the leap and open both Greenhouse Canteen venues and The Bath House?
Natalie: I just felt like nothing like Greenhouse existed when we decided to open. There was vegan food available, but not necessarily in a setting that created atmosphere where you felt like you were having a night out. That was the initial idea for Greenhouse—to supply the vegan market with a more mainstream dining experience. The Bath House idea literally came when we were talking about it in the restaurant one day. When we think about business decisions or something we’d like to create that’s on brand for Greenhouse, it always stems from something we wish existed.
Phoebe: To create somewhere we would want to hang out.
Charlie: We all grew up on the Gold Coast, so we’ve got our love here. With The Bath House, there wasn’t anything quite like it just yet and so we decided to branch out and try something different.
Phoebe: We hear people using the facilities at The Bath House saying, we can’t believe this has never existed on the Gold Coast before. But how could it not work when they exist in some form right across the world? With Nat’s determination and Charlie’s sass…
Natalie: And Phoebe’s connections [laughs]. Phoebe knows every one.
Can you tell us about the early days of Greenhouse Canteen?
Natalie: Oh! The early days of Greenhouse were so bad [laughs].
Charlie: If we’re being honest, there were times where Natalie and I would be crying in the kitchen.
Natalie: Yeah, bottles of wine and tears out the back were pretty standard. But also, complete and utter naivety. I remember the first night we opened; I didn’t even know where to get serviettes. We were so green. So we’ve learnt a lot and the business has grown with us. I think that’s really what makes a business what it is. We’re always being fluid with what we’re learning and I don’t think any one gets it right straight away so, luckily, we had a client base who was pretty supportive and allowed us to make our mistakes.
Charlie: We were in Kirra for two years prior to being in Miami [the Greenhouse Factory] and then we transformed to Greenhouse Canteen. Kirra was a little bit quieter in the beginning and then it really picked up.
Natalie: I think the first year of any business is terrifying. And then once you’ve survived the first year, every one tells you oh now you have to survive three years and then you get to three years and they say five years… Down in Kirra, we used to all do 14-hour days, the weekends would be 16 hours. But the days look very different now.
When was the moment you decided to create The Bath House?
Phoebe: I feel like we’d talk about The Bath House and drink wine and talk about it more. And then Natty went overseas and when she came back, she was like “I’ve got a plan” and she had a full business proposal. It was kind of overnight. And we thought “okay” and started looking at spaces and factories and then when Nat found the space we’re in now, it just felt right.
Has The Bath House’s start up differed from Greenhouse?
Charlie: No, not really. We go full speed.
Natalie: And don’t really think about the consequences until they happen. It was extremely fast but I feel like it might have been different if we had decided to do another restaurant, because we could have implemented things that we had learnt, but it all comes down to that ambitious amateur thing. We really don’t know what we’re doing any of the time. But if you get caught up in the idea of trying to have it all perfect, you’ll never end up starting. We’re only six weeks in [at The Bath House]. We’re learning to be fluid, happy to make changes as we go and are always communicating that with our clientele.
Phoebe: We’re very open to evolving. People LOVE to give feedback.
How are Greenhouse’s philosophies similar or different from The Bath House’s?
Charlie: They’re similar in that everything we do is always going to be cruelty free and vegan. So, all of the products and minerals we use within The Bath House are eco-friendly and sustainably sourced.
Natalie: Everyone who comes into The Bath House really does feel like it is Greenhouse. It’s not something that we sat down and decided on. I think just by having the same people do it, there’s an essence of what Greenhouse is in The Bath House.
Phoebe: We’ve literally done it all ourselves. We are now expert painters! And we styled everything.
Natalie: Which is the same as everything we did for the restaurant. It just comes down to having the same kind of love put into it.
Charlie: And we’re always keeping our fingers in all of the agave pots.
What's your best advice for small business owners?
Charlie: Get a watch.
Phoebe: Write everything down.
Natalie: Find a team that has your back. You need a core group of people that completely understand your vision, trust in what you’re going to do and help you. Small business in the industry that Greenhouse is in, it’s not a one-man show. So, that’s been paramount to Greenhouse’s success—in a broad sense. We have a pretty low staff turn over and that’s been essential. And don’t get tied up in perfection; just try it and fix it as you go.
Phoebe: Nat’s motto is near enough is good enough and Charlie is pretty much borderline OCD, but it’s good, it just meets in the middle.
Natalie: And Phoebe just makes sure that we don’t punch on [laughs]. We’re a pretty close-knit trio.
If you were a dish or drink what would you be?
Phoebe: Charlotte’s sometimes a Thai Massage (favourite Après Surf cocktail), otherwise she’s a dirty martini or something on the rocks, you know, she is a stiff drink kind of gal. Nat loves a glass of pinot noir…
Natalie: I’m just getting better with age [laughs].
Phoebe: I’m a ginger margarita.
Charlie: I think we’re all probably a long black. I’d definitely be something potato based.
Natalie: Vegan loaded fries? Calzone?
Phoebe: I want to be the salad gal, but I really like pasta. Someone just make me a pizza.
Who is a Gold Coast business owner that you admire?
Charlie: I’m a really big fan of Adam, from Justin Lane. I was going to The Cavern when I was 16 and now he has an empire! I just think that he’s got his finger on the pulse and has always been one step ahead of the trends. Even with veganism, Mr Bengel has a lot of vegan options and they’re pretty easy going at Justin Lane with that too. He just knows what’s up— I want him to be my mentor [laughs].
Natalie: Fab, who owns YCL. She’s a jewellery designer and she has the same kind of alignment as us. All of her stuff is cruelty free, she sustainably sources it and she is just one of the most humble, genuine, beautiful, down-to-earth girls; and her business has seen so much growth in the last year. She’s just effortless. Abbey is doing great things at Lovechild, too. She just opened her cruelty-free fashion shop in Mermaid Beach.
Phoebe: I am a fan girl of Nick from Blackboard. I just think it’s amazing how he started off with a little hole-in-the-wall while he was still in uni and then has had so much growth. Now there’s a trendy cafe in every street, of every suburb. But I feel like he was one of the pioneers who really brought that Melbourne feel, and now, he’s overseas planting a coffee plantation in Columbia. Like, what a guy! He’s done a lot. And when you go into Blackboard, he’s still so friendly and approachable and has the time to have a chat.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
Natalie and Charlie: Food!
Phoebe: Everything, everywhere.
Natalie: Other people, other businesses. When we travel we always bring that back. Social media is just an endless stream of inspiration and Peter Kelly is an online mentor who I follow—she builds phenomenal businesses.
Charlie: Is it going to sound stupid if I say Natalie? There are three of us, and Nat is like the top of the pyramid. She drives us.
Phoebe: She’s small, but she’s very powerful! I don’t think there’s anything she can’t do. The amount of random knowledge that she has, I’m like, how do you even…? She’s now a certified pool cleaner! She can just make anything happen.
What's your secret ingredient?
Natalie: You’ve got to have sass.
Charlie: Alignment, always number one. We’re always checking in and thinking, is this feeling right for us? Are there any kinks we need to iron out?
What's your go-to lazy day activity?
Charlie: We used to have adventure Mondays. Just pick a place and go there… Clearly we don’t spend any time apart [laughs].
Phoebe: We used to hire boats a lot. We’d just hire one of those shitty little boats on the Tweed River, leave our phones in the car and go off the grid.
Natalie: Sometimes I like to get a Grill’d burger, put it in my handbag and go watch a movie by myself.
Phoebe: You used to do that all the time!
Tell us about your favourite places for coffee, eats and drinks.
Charlie: We do like Justin Lane. Portside Coffee in Currumbin, oh and Good Day.
Phoebe: Apres Surf is my favourite; the boys there are lovely.
Natalie: The Collective and we frequent The Cambus Wallace on a Thursday when they do their vegan menu. Rick Shores for a nice lunch or dinner out, too. They have such great menu options and are very accommodating. If there’s a new place, we’ve got to try it.
What’s your dream for the Greenhouse brand as a whole?
Natalie: To have Greenhouse branch out into a mainstream brand or household name. If someone were to think about veganism or cruelty-free living, we would like them to think about Greenhouse. Whether it is the restaurant or The Bath House. At the moment, we’re looking into growth… There’s something in the works...
Phoebe: We’re planting new trees and growing branches…
Charlie: To be all over Australia, that would be the dream. Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne…
Phoebe: And have a big farmhouse. Where we have an animal sanctuary, crops, supplies and our own cascading waterfalls, which are, of course, pure, spring water. And we’d do events there; you could get married there. We have big beautiful, long table lunches—it all happens at this place.
What’s your take on the Gold Coast food scene and how does it differ from Brisbane or Sydney?
Charlie: It felt more exciting [to open a restaurant on the Gold Coast] because it’s new. It’s just been the past three years that the Gold Coast has picked up the foodie scene; it was all just happening when we got into the industry, so it’s been exciting to see it burst.
Natalie: Everyone has just picked up their game. The Gold Coast is such an exciting place to launch a business or to go out on your own, because we are such a new city. We’re creating this young, foodie business and entrepreneurial culture and if you want to start something, you can. And the Gold Coast totally gets behind you. If you launched something in a bigger city, it’s so saturated. There’s so much more competition, a lot of things have already been tried and tested there. We’re creating a new little city and a new little hub.
Phoebe: And the art scene is getting bigger, the music scene is getting better. It’s all just growing together. I feel like all of our friends are stepping out and doing their own thing and everyone is really supportive of that. People are doing cool things.
What’s the most fun thing about running your own business?
Phoebe: We get to hang out all the time.
Natalie: Getting to create stuff together. We get to try and test anything we want.
Phoebe: And the future is exciting… We can do anything!
Charlie: The possibilities are endless and we’re always thinking about what’s coming next, and new things that people want to try out… Knowing that if we have an idea, we can implement something and see how it goes.
What’s the best advice someone has ever given you?
Charlie: “Just keep swimming” – Dory
Phoebe: Grind and hustle.
Natalie: Not to get tied up in details. Have your vision and intentions clear when making decisions but allow the details to fall into place.
Got any goss?
Natalie: We’re looking for a southern location and a new adventure…
Phoebe: World domination!
Image credit: Hayley Williamson for The Urban List