THERE'S a member of the team at Belmont's Common Circus that takes prime position every day in the centre of the busy cafe and homewares shop.
Her name is Blanche and you can't miss her.
She's the big, musk pink espresso machine that has become "one of the girls" according to owner Lauren Henry, who in October will celebrate five years since opening the popular shop that combines coffee, retail and community in one.
"We attract an all girl staff just by co-incidence, so Blanche is just one of the girls," Henry explains with a laugh. "We named her after Blanche from The Golden Girls."
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Blanche is under the pump every day at the cafe which has become a much-loved part of the Belmont community since Henry left a career in fashion, moving from Sydney to Newcastle with a vision to combine a coffee shop with a retail space.
The space is buzzing when Weekender drops in on a Monday morning. The seats are all filled both inside and out, bar a couple of stools at the windows overlooking the recently re-opened Belmont Baths.
Henry and her staff know their regulars and have formed bonds with customers.
"It has become a hub for the community," Henry says. "That's one thing I never thought about or expected, but has been the most rewarding. Just how much the community has embraced us and made us their regular second home."
In the five years since she opened, Common Circus has evolved beyond her expectations. Passionate about interiors and homewares, Henry wanted to create a space where customers could grab a coffee, but have the opportunity to shop as well.
"It was about creating a destination," she says. "We aren't amongst a strip of shops, but it's somewhere where you can come and spend 10 minutes, or a couple of hours."
The front of the shop is dedicated to the cafe, while the back is filled with homewares, gifts and a growing collection of children's toys and clothing, all of which are handpicked by mother-of-one Henry (items can also be purchased on the shop's online store).
The eclectic range includes everything from woven baskets, books, wooden children's toys and bed linen to all-natural cleaning products, fine art prints and a wall of greeting cards, with an emphasis on sustainable living products.
And then, of course, there is the coffee.
A cup of coffee gives you more than your caffeine hit at Common Circus. The shop is sharing its story through the introduction of new custom-designed takeaway coffee cups.
The three designs created by Central Coast artist Bonnie Gray are a reflection of the cafe's focus (coffee, community, home, lifestyle) and the faithful customer base that has allowed the shop to evolve into the space it has become.
The cups include little details such as the shop's opening date (October 2014), as well as phrases such as "bagel love" and "free chats" scrawled on the cups, along with references to customers that have left an imprint over the years.
"We lost one of our customers [Darcy] to cancer a few years back and his dog used to come down and sit at the cafe," Henry says. "All of his mates would meet out on the front deck every day with him, so it was quite cool and special. So we have put Darcy's dog on the cup as well. It brings it all together with what we are about and what we are trying to achieve.
"I think we are realising now that we have got a bit of a story and lots of our customers are so great, and we have formed bonds, so it's nice to put that out there."
The cups are 100 per cent compostable too. The used cups are placed in a green bin that is collected by the supplier who commercially composts the cafe's packaging and food waste.
"They make the cups from plants, not oil, then they take the cup back and put it back into the ground. They take it through the whole life cycle of that cup," Henry says. "It's important these days to think about where your waste is going and how to minimise it."
Glee Coffee Roasters supply the beans, including for the batch brew coffee.
"It's kind of like your American percolated coffee, so it's a different type of brewing process. It's done as a batch," Henry says. "We change the roasted beans on that weekly, so it's always different and something new for people to try when they come in."
The food menu is limited, but designed to pair perfectly with a coffee: bagels, toasties, sandwiches, banana bread, fruit toast, yoghurt and muesli. Plus a cabinet full of pastries, cookies and cakes from Snows Patisserie and raw treats from Luv Superfoods.
"We want to make sure what we do, we do well, and not try to trick anything up," Henry says. "We keep it quite simple and that allows us to be fast and do what we do well, rather than en masse."
- Common Circus, 36 Brooks Parade, Belmont. Monday-Friday 6.30am- 4pm, Saturday 7am-4pm, Sunday 7.30am-3pm.
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