Â No signage, no worries
October 8, 2016
ITâ€™S tucked away behind the laundrette on the waterfront at Cooktown with little or no signage to attract any attention.
Only the locals know where to find it.
The Coffee House @ Riverside is Cooktownâ€™s best kept secret â€“ and owners Luc and Lena (pronounced Lay-na) like it that way.
Even the local tourist office doesnâ€™t know about them, but they donâ€™t mind.
The petite Russian beauty and her French pastry chef husband tired of catering to the tourist trade while operating their French patisserie in Kuranda and sought out something different.
Theyâ€™d been coming to Cooktown for eight years and knew it to be a quiet, sleepy little town, and thought it might be just the place to settle down and open up shop at a slower pace.
Little did they know theyâ€™d be working as hard as they do now, often 12- to 15-hour days.
Choosing a lifestyle, not a destination
It was a lifestyle choice more than anything that brought them here.
Their children have grown and are making their own lives, so now itâ€™s time for Luc and Lena.
When they decided to open their business in Cooktown, they found a fabulous location down by the water, where Luc can even fish while he works if he wants to.
The best ‘office’ in Australia
Looking out over the front deck at the yachts moored in front of his restaurant, Luc spreads his arms wide and says:
â€œWhere else in the world can you find this? Itâ€™s a most beautiful workspace and itâ€™s here every day, ever-changing.â€
Now all heÂ wants is to build a pontoon out front and buy a nice, 30-foot runabout, and to catch a few more mackerel and mangrove Jack for their dinner each night.
Luc says heâ€™s more Australian than French, having been in this country 31 years. He met Elena 10 years ago.
He reckons she was attracted to his rugged, handsome looksÂ and sparkling witÂ â€¦ who knows what it was? She just smiles and hugs him.
Embraced by the local community
Cooktown has a really strong sense of community, which is the major difference between city and country life.
Luc and Lena felt that strong sense of belonging about two months ago when Luc had a heart attack.
They build them tough in Jura, France, as Luc was back in the kitchen within a week.
The genuine care and concern from their customers, friends and neighbours reinforced their decision to make Cooktown their home into their retirement years.
â€œI canâ€™t understand that. My wife told me I donâ€™t have a heart,â€ he laughs.
But Lena said the genuine concern for him and the many phone calls and visits from their clientele was very touching.
â€œWe donâ€™t want to make more money,â€ Lena said.Â â€œThat only leads to more stress. Here thereâ€™s no red lights, no pedestrian crossings. You just watch out for people wandering across the road.â€
Â Changing people’s tastebuds – one bite at a time
Luc has been on a self-styled mission for several years â€“ to change the tastes of everyday Australians and encourage them to broaden their palate.
â€œSome people from here knew us from Kuranda and they were worried about how it would work, as weâ€™re different,â€ Luc said.
â€œWith my knowledge of food, I donâ€™t do the traditional fish and chips, burgers, bacon and eggs …Â â€œFor the past 10 years I have slowly changed peopleâ€™s tastes. Some people, in their 60s and 70s, have never been out of Queensland.
â€œItâ€™s good to be able to convince them to try something than what they consider the norm.â€
In his patisserie, both in Kuranda and in Cooktown, he originally offered mud cake and cheesecake, but after six months he eliminated those from the menu, replacing them with French offerings â€“ and itâ€™s working.
â€œNow thereâ€™s no mud cake or cheesecake. We have tiramisu, croissants, freshly-baked baguettes â€¦ many more French-style offerings â€“ and they love it,â€ Luc said.
â€œItâ€™s all full fat â€“ and we donâ€™t charge extra for that.â€
Living the laid-back, simple life
After 43 years on the job, Iâ€™m not too bad, he says, as he pats his stomach, while Elena, who does eat her husbandâ€™s cooking, remains trim and petite.
â€œItâ€™s a simple life here, very laid back,â€ Luc says.
â€œThe locals donâ€™t mind waiting 20 minutes for breakfast, whereas tourists want their coffee yesterday.â€
So, I asked, was there a down side to living and working in this northern paradise?
â€œNothing is allowed to break down here â€“ not any vital equipment, at least,â€ Luc said.
â€œYou can never get a tradie to come and fix anything because theyâ€™re always out fishing.â€
Â Gone fishin’
The French-Aussie and his Russian bride couldnâ€™t wish for a better place to live than Cooktown.
â€œTo us, itâ€™s ideal. What we have, we have. It was not our dream destination â€“ but itâ€™s where we live, work and love,â€ Luc said.
â€œItÂ is my dream job. I work 12 to 15 hours a day, but the view more than makes up for it.â€
In keeping with their lifestyle choice, they open the shop Thursday, Friday and Monday from 6am to 5pm and on weekends 6am to 3pm.
But, donâ€™t bother looking for them on Tuesdays or Wednesdays â€“ on doctorâ€™s advice theyâ€™ve taken those days off each week … to go fishing!