Doing it the White way

29 Apr, 2012 02:00 AM
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THEY have been described as the dynamic duo by those that work with them and after meeting Karen and Belinda White, it's easy to see why.

The mother and daughter team run two cafes in Augusta, the Lighthouse Cafe and the Jewel Cave Cafe, and they have literally breathed life in to both establishments.

The Lighthouse Cafe is situated at Cape Leeuwin, 10 kilometres south of Augusta, where the Indian and Southern Oceans meet.

The actual lighthouse is the tallest on mainland Australia and the cafe itself is one of the old lighthouse keeper's cottages, which was done up with funding from the Margaret River Augusta Tourism Association (MRATA) and fitted out beautifully in an eco-friendly style, including tables made from recycled timber.

Karen took on the cafe six years ago and Belinda soon joined her, after finishing up work as a jillaroo.

It may sound like an unusual transition, but Karen and Belinda's resumes are both quite colourful. Previous workplaces have included paddocks, riverboats and shearing sheds.

It's a testament to their positive attitude, flexibility and drive, which makes them so successful at what they do.

Starting from scratch with the Lighthouse Cafe, the ladies have built a fantastic reputation, particularly for their Devonshire Teas which include homemade scones.

"We're quite well known for our scones," Karen said.

"We get ladies from the CWA to make our jams and they are quite special."

After building such a solid business, Karen could see retirement on the horizon and began dreaming of trekking around the country in a campervan.

But an opportunity cropped up, and 16 months ago she decided to tackle another challenge and start a cafe at the Jewel Cave, located 10km north-west of Augusta.

"Once again there was nothing here, just a little red brick building positioned on top of the cave, which years ago would have been used as a kiosk," Karen said.

"The cave is the newest and largest cave discovered and also the most beautiful."

Funding from the MRATA and various others including the Lotteries Commission and Royalties for Regions saw the Jewel Cave receive a much needed facelift, with the establishment of the Preservation Centre, including retail and cafe facilities complete with an interpretive area.

The cafe overlooks and opens out onto the old Karri forest and can accommodate 80 diners, on tables also made from recycled timber.

Not just any recycled timber - Karen and her friends pulled up the old stage from Scott River where an annual black tie ball used to be held, and a local carpenter turned the Marri planks into tables.

"Coincidentally, we have Marri slats in the ceiling which are pretty beautiful and my benchtop is a huge Marri slab, about three inches thick," Karen said.

"Pardon the pun, but it all marries up very well!"

The Jewel Cafe is well established for meals and specialises in fish and chips with locally-caught fish as well as offering a range of vegetarian and gluten-free options, coffee, cakes and biscuits.

Last year, Jewel Cave won the gold medal for tourist attractions at the WA Tourism Awards and received the silver for eco-tourism.

With both cafes now up and running, Belinda and Karen are still working hard to ensure that all customers are met with a smile, great service and great food.

"We have a bit of a motto, which is providing fast, friendly, fabulous food," Karen said.

Paul Sofilas is the caretaker and manager at the Leeuwin Lighthouse and is adamant that the two ladies are the perfect combination for success.

"They never say no, if people ask for something, they will always find a way of helping," Paul said.

"That really helps us as a tourist destination - it adds to the experience of the Cape.

"They don't see something as a problem; they see it as an opportunity instead."

There is the adage that you should never mix business and family, so what makes these two so unique?

According to Karen, it's the fact they are best friends and have worked together for many years, in many different areas.

"We get along really well, we're very similar and we respect each other," Karen said.

"I think if you're going to go into business with family, you really need to trust each other and be a bit flexible.

"I lost my Mum to cancer when I was 20 and I think because of that, I want my kids to spend as much time with me as possible, so there are no regrets when I'm gone."

As for their business success, Karen said she just loved brightening up peoples' days by being friendly and serving quality food.

"If someone is having a bad day, then hopefully you can put a little smile on their face by being nice and bubbly to them," she said.

"Being in the tourist area, you have to be a bit of a tourist guide as well and be willing to spend time with people."

Karen and Belinda have the kind of relationship that many would envy, and both agree that their main challenges arise not from each other, but trying to find good staff at the cafes.

They prefer to hire locals, but according to Belinda, the expectations are quite high.

"It's hard to find the right staff, because no-one is as perfect as my Mum," Belinda said.

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