George James grew up in cafes run by his mother and father in and around Newcastle. He watched and he learned, helping out where he could.
His dream? To open and run his own restaurant. And after years spent working in hospitality here and overseas, James is tantalisingly close to realising that dream.
James opened Merewether cafe Table 1 Espresso three years ago and has just branched out to Warners Bay where he is carefully crafting his first dinner menu and wine list.
He is a busy man to catch, having just returned from the 2017 Australian Small Business Champion Awards in Sydney where Table 1 Espresso was a finalist in the Cafe of the Year category and finished in the top five.
Service at Table 1 Espresso is of an award-winning standard and James wants to keep it that way.
“The best part of being in this business, for me, is when someone comes up to the counter and says to me ‘Your staff are amazing’. That makes me smile.”
James says his father was “a very particular man about customer service and flavour” while his mother was “friendly and professional and never let her standards slide”. His two brothers also own restaurants and cafes.
He personally “taste tests” each potential dish when working on a menu, looking closely at flavour and presentation. And instead of concentrating on one cuisine, he says he has tried to “implement flavours and styles from all over the world”.
“I’m a very fussy person when it comes to eating good food. If I don’t go ‘Wow, that’s amazing’, it doesn’t make the cut,” he explained.
“There has to be an explosion of flavours and, as you know, people feast with their eyes first so we need to make each dish a work of art.”
James opened a second Table 1 Espresso because he found he was having to turn customers away, many of whom had travelled from further afield to be there.
“The Merewether location got us to where we are today but it is very restricted. At Warners Bay we have a liquor license and can run a restaurant after dark,” he said.
“I used to walk past this location and dream of opening here. I was saying it before I started off with the smallest and cheapest thing I could afford at the time, which was a cafe at a car wash. Now I hope to open a third and maybe a fourth Table 1.”
And here’s a tip. The Hunter Valley’s wine country is high on his list.