Now under new ownership, Browns Eatery & Store (formerly Browns Espresso) is undergoing some big changes, and they’re not just in name. But Jenefer Bilkey is loving the challenge, and the good vibe that the café is now humming with!
Jenefer, what made you buy the café?
A couple of years ago I ventured away from the family businesses and set up a wholesale clothing business, designing and selling to stores throughout New Zealand. I loved meeting new people and the challenge of starting a new business, but I really missed being part of Remuera! I had been involved in the organisation of so many events for the Remuera Business Association, and knew so many people, that I decided I wanted to be part of it again.
You've changed the name from Browns Espresso to Browns Eatery & Store. What does this change mean?
Browns started out as a small espresso bar serving cupcakes and coffee in takeaway cups, in the middle of a clothing store. Browns Eatery & Store reflects the fact that we now have a lot more food options, as well as a 'general store' feel with our range of homeware for sale.
We love the design changes you’ve made. What other visions do you have for the café?
I am passionate about creating a space for people to sit together, chat together and eat together. I love our big communal table that I had made from an old French farm trestle table, and my vision is to have an atmosphere reminiscent of a New York or Melbourne-style local deli. Our next big thing is the kitchen – we have run out of space! And with the new kitchen will come a new menu with an abundance of fresh, simple, organic, healthy food, beautifully cooked.
Where do your design ideas for the shop interior come from?
I am quite definite about what I like and the look I want. It's definitely eclectic. I love a mix of antique and new, the simplicity of the white tiles and marble. I read a lot of magazines and keep an eye on Pinterest and Facebook, and when I’m travelling I see a lot of cafes I like and usually bring home a little bit of each one to incorporate in my designs.
Do you have future renovation plans?
I have so many – I wish I could do them all at once! But I didn’t want to close down when I renovated, so it’s been a work in progress while remaining open. Painters and plasterers have been in at night and customers watched as the wall was tiled over a weekend. I think that people love watching the action, and that every time they come in there is something different to see. I also love reinventing, so it will never stay the same!
What’s your favourite part of the café?
I love the spaces – the high ceilings, the courtyard, the secret garden out the back. And I love the vintage hand-blown lights that have just gone up. But mostly it’s the regulars. It’s amazing how much you become part of peoples’ lives! We have lots of laughs with our customers, and we have a few older customers that we look after and make sure they are okay. One of our regulars phoned just last week, after he'd finished at bowls, to see if his family was around. Funnily enough they were here, having lunch! I love it when the cafe is full of noise and laughter.
Are there many challenges owning a cafe in Remuera?
Not really - I love the location and the people. Thre are lots of kids in Remuera too, and I love that they feel welcome coming here.
Who else works at Browns Eatery & Store?
We have an amazing team of people who all have a passion for hospitality. All of our baristas are Allpress trained and have had years of experience. the kitchen team is fantatic too. Everyone has their own skills and we all enjoy working together.
What are your favour products in the store?
I love our Allpress coffee! Also the date scones, club sandwiches and Lesley's delicious salads. On the homeware front I love the enamelware. It has a gorgeous vintage look, but is so practical. We all do our baking in it!
What seem to be the most popular products with your customers?
Everything is popular, but I think people are starting to realise that our scones and muffins sell out early. They are too hard to resist when they're fresh out of the oven in the morning.
Do you have any plans for the store for Christmas?
This will be my first proper Christmas in the café, and I can’t wait. I love Christmas and definitely go a bit over the top! I have lots of Christmas homeware and decorations, and food will be plentiful. Christmas mince pies, gingerbread, delicious hams, lots of take-home treats…
Browns Eatery & Store, 409 Remuera Road
Ph: 021 browns4
Photography by Vanita Andrews and words by Fiona Wilson