Julia Walsh (left) and manager Sandy Watson.
Julia Walsh (left) and manager Sandy Watson.

Mullum’s oldest eatery gets ‘hip’ make-over

MULLUMBIMBY'S oldest eatery which boasts a colourful 68 year history has had a hip make-over and now even boasts its own signature coffee range.

The Empire Cafe on Burringbar St re-opened its doors last week after new owners - Anu Iris and Heartmut Nauss - spent a hectic week tearing out most of the old fittings, including the booths which could not be salvaged, and exchanged it for a slick modern fit-out.

Two baristas have been hired to work the "Rolls Royce of coffee machines" from Milan of which there are only three in Australia.

Lismore coffee expert Nick Muller has produced a custom 'Empire' blend which is billed as having a "subtle forest flavour with hints of burnt caramel and a smooth chocolate after taste".

Manager Sandy Watson said the long-term plan was to also open at night as a licensed bar and host live music events.

It's a far cry from some of the more down market versions of the eatery which at times has appeared pretty dingy and dated.

The Empire Cafe began trading in 1945 when it was restored as a milk bar next to the lively theatre next door of the same name and became a favourite hangout for local teenagers.

But the site has hosted eateries of some description since 1907 when it opened as The Sydney Oyster Saloon and Refreshment Rooms.

In 1912 when the Simpson's building opened on the site, The Mullumbimby Refreshment Palace was considered very posh with two separate dining rooms including a ladies saloon.

The cafe became a popular community meeting venue during the first world war and was a favourite hangout for military personnel during the second world-war.

While times have changed, The Empire remains popular with local teenagers who pour in after school for milk-shakes and hot chips.

Sandy said he and the owners had a real respect for the cafe's long and colourful history and loved the village atmosphere in the town.

"I've travelled the world. I've been to very few places as charming as this one. It's just a great place to live," Sandy said.

Mullumbimby Chamber of Commerce president Dean Stanford said there had been a positive community response to the historical cafe's revamp.

"No disrespect to the last incarnation, but it's always good to see a business moving forward," Mr Stanford said.

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