NEWCASTLE West coffee bar Sherwood is taking over the 'burbs.
Owners Danny Sprague and Emily Gibson-Burns launched a fourth Sherwood site in Kotara this month after expanding the business to New Lambton in March when they took over and rebranded Black Circle Cafe.
The two suburban locations join a "drive-by" Sherwood coffee bar on Hunter Street, not far from the original location on Parry Street which they took ownership of in 2018.
At the time, Sherwood "OG" (as the couple refer to it) had a reputation as one of the city's best spots for a caffeine hit. Back then, the cosy coffee bar's vision was to keep things simple: serving consistently great coffee paired with an uncomplicated menu and a solid team of passionate staff bringing it all together.
It's an approach that has stuck since Sprague and Gibson-Burns came on board three years ago and even with the rapid growth of the city's coffee scene, Sherwood is still a firm favourite in Newcastle.
"I remember saying to Emily a couple of years ago, 'Since we bought Sherwood, I can count 11 new [coffee] places that have opened around us in Newcastle West'," Sprague tells Weekender.
"It has never really affected us though. It has never plateaued, it just gets busier and busier. We have always tried to respect what the previous owners created, and paid close attention to what people loved there."
Sherwood's menu is carried across to both the Kotara and New Lambton sites, with a range of colourful and nourishing acai bowls, fresh-squeezed juices, all-day breakfast staples such as avocado toast and bacon and egg rolls, as well as toasties. Their famous reuben has earned a following of its own, loaded with pastrami, sauerkraut, cheddar, pickles and Russian sauce.
The coffee offering remains simple, with their own house blend (roasted in Newcastle) at all locations, as well as a rotating single origin at New Lambton.
The expansion out of Newcastle and into the suburbs is the beginning of a big year for Sherwood. The couple plan to open another two Sherwood sites this year, all within 10 kilometres of the city, while the Kotara location is also set to operate as a bakehouse within the next month, taking advantage of the full kitchen at the back end of the shop. Sourdough bread will be available to the public and the team will make in-house cakes, muffins and sweet treats there which will be stocked across all of the Sherwood sites.
While 2020 proved a challenging time for the hospitality industry, Sprague says the expansion of Sherwood is partly due to the events of last year.
"We had a full lockdown when COVID first hit because our son was in NICU for a few weeks after he was born," Sprague says.
"He had CDH [congenital diaphragmatic hernia] and had to have a major surgery on his second day and, because it was a possible respiratory illness, we went into a full lockdown.
"With the cafe, the staff just took it on and went with it. We didn't expect it to stay open. Every single week we checked in with our guys and they told us, 'We want to open'. They were driving it all and doing absolutely everything."
The support of their employees paved the way for the couple to consider expanding into more locations and offer key staff members an opportunity to partner in the business.
"We have a really good, tight-knit team and to be able to give something back to them has been great. We're helping them get involved in their own cafes, so that is why we believe we can expand as a collective, as opposed to a franchise," Sprague says.
"What we are planning to do is have our quality people partner with us and help them get into their own cafe, albeit through us.
"We can grow the brand but keep the quality, which is our biggest focus."