When you walk into the beautifully renovated space that has become Avoca Surf House you could be mistaken for thinking you have teleported to Bondi’s Icebergs, a bar on the Cote D’Azur or any other chic waterfront locale anywhere in the world.
With its ideal perch overlooking Avoca Beach, newly fitted floor-to-ceiling glass walls that provide panoramic views of the ocean, and stylish fit out, it might even take your breath away.
It looks like a million-dollar beachfront mansion but this surf house isn’t about pretension or even looks, it’s about the community.
Since moving back to the Coast with her three-year-old son a couple of years ago, Emily Caska was embraced by the Avoca community during a tough time and decided she wanted to give back.
She had a community centre in mind – she even looked at the local Scout Hall – but when she found out that the old Mojito Joes bar, with its killer beach views, was vacant, she embarked on what has ultimately become the world’s most chic community centre.
“Otis and I feel so welcome by the community so I wanted to build something that catered to the community, something for everyone,” Emily explains.
“The restaurant and bar is secondary, it’s about the community in every aspect. Until we trade at 12, it’s a community centre. We’re going to do yoga at 6am, gardening lessons, a senior’s book club, beach volleyball…”
Keep an eye out for daily activities – a bit like what might be offered on a summer camp – to bring the Avoca community together to connect over some good ole’ fashioned fun.
Locals wanting to do their bit for the environment can join in a monthly beach clean-up in conjunction with Take 3 for the Sea. If the reward of a clean beach isn’t enough, the Surf House is offering a complimentary cold one to any volunteers who return with a load of rubbish.
Even before the Surf House opened its doors in early December, Emily had teed up ongoing charity partnerships with local dog rescue and sporting groups.
With light movable furniture and concrete floors, the house itself has been designed to be a flexible space to make room for yoga overlooking the ocean in the morning and then all-day dining from midday to midnight.
In line with the community spirit of the venue, almost every aspect of the construction and design can be traced back to a local.
The vibrant art hanging on the wall has been created by local creative Evie Adasal – who used to run beloved homewares shop Honey I’m Home at Wamberal; the crate benches have been handcrafted by the talented gang at Fairhaven – who prove they have bucketloads of ability for people with a disability; the raw cakes on the dessert menu have been lovingly prepared by local cake maker Sydney of Raw by Hara, and most of the heavy lifting has been done by local tradies.
Emily has also hired a fleet of 30 local staff, including a few people with a disability and many who have never worked in a bar or restaurant, and said she is looking forward to watching them grow.
“I genuinely thrive off the happiness of others,” says Emily, who is approaching her new role as boss with a refreshing take.
“It’s about being accessible and human.”
Emily says most of the staff applied because of the community ethos of the Surf House and unlike standard hospitality interviews, they were asked about all of their skills so don’t be surprised to see your favourite barman or waitress multi-tasking with a ceramics or yoga class before their shift.
With its unbeatable vista over beautiful Avoca Beach, the Surf House is set to become the hottest ticket in town for special events, long lunches, weekend brunches and an afternoon tipple.
The menu is 95 per cent Australian produce, and mostly seafood.
The fish tacos with local flathead, nam jim aioli, herb slaw and freshly baked Australian corn tortillas are expected to be popular, as is the zesty Blue Eye Cod ceviche.
Emily wants to cater to everyone so there are plenty of options for vegans and vegetarians, like miso eggplant with pickled radish, smoothie bowls and even vegan wine.
While meat lovers will go ga-ga over the succulent fried chicken.
With a menu dictated by what’s fresh, seasonal and sustainable, it’s modern Australian dining at its best.
Locals can take advantage of mid-week lunch deals with two or three courses on offer for $45 or $55.
Over summer, the most exciting menu item is likely to be the Instagram worthy popsicles, which are set to come in exciting flavours like frose as well as non-alcoholic options.
Ensuring that it’s a venue that is accessible to the whole community, Emily has consciously kept bar prices low.
The Tyrells house wine costs less than $30 and during happy hour or ‘Surf House Sunset’ from 4pm-6pm, beer and wine is just $5.
With conscience and community at the heart of the business, money is not driving this venture.
Emily says she was warned about the high staff turnover and small margins in hospitality but hopes the unique approach of this community centre cum dining venue will make it a success.
With no background in business, only a Bachelor in Economics, Emily’s outlook is one of common sense.
She also has no background in design but it only takes a split second to see what a great job she has done opening up the stunning Avoca space.
“I just want people to feel welcome when they walk in the door. Our house is your house,” she says.
On top of the new business, Emily plans to continue her full-time work in child protection, as well as the all-important gig of single mum and looking after her disabled sister.
That’s a lot for anyone but this easy going North Avoca resident, who doesn’t even own a diary, has a mantra that keeps her sane.
“My grandfather had a saying, ‘It’s all relative’,” she says.
“Things happen and you can’t do anything about it – you just have to feel joyful and secure in what you do.”
Avoca Surf House is open from 12-12 from Wednesday to Sunday with breakfast on offer on the weekends.
Originally published in Coastal Lifestyle – check out the full magazine here