It’s very apparent when you arrive at The Barn on Flaxton that they are hugely popular, and the main reason for that success is immediately obvious – they look after their community, and their community looks after them.
by Victoria McGuin
Since Ange and Jason Bowen bought this café and gift shop in 2019, it has flourished under their care. And this is the keyword – care. This friendly couple love to welcome tourists, but their main focus is being a space for the local community and listening to their needs and suggestions.
“We were both police officers in Caboolture,” shared Ange, “which is where we met. We started out as work colleagues, and one day I was explaining a recent date failure to Jason, saying I needed someone with a sense of humour.
“The next thing, he started cracking loads of jokes in the car, and I realised, ‘Oh, I think he likes me!’”
Jason smiled at me and shrugged, “Well, it worked, didn’t it?!”
The couple were married at their hinterland home in Hunchy a few years later, a place they moved to from Diddillibah.
“We looked at the property and I said, ‘too much yard work’. And Jase said ‘yay!’” Ange laughed.
Having both worked in cafes before joining the police force, Ange was on the lookout for something they could build on together, and along came The Barn on Flaxton.
“I knew I wanted to focus on the locals and regulars,” Ange explained. “So many places are closed by 3pm, as they tend to cater more to the visiting tourists, but we wanted to be a place for the community, which is why we are open 8am-4pm, seven days a week.”
The venture has become a family affair, with Ange’s sister-in-law, Danielle Birks, buying into the business a year ago, and Ange’s daughter and nephew working part-time.
“We also have a family of three sisters working here,” shared Ange, “and all our team are locals. Everyone involved bakes the different desserts we sell, with Chef Dan making the seasonal meals. It’s a wonderful team, and Jason and I are so lucky to have them.”
(It says something about their reputation when I was later in a shop in Montville and shared that I’d interviewed Ange and Jason, to which the shop owner replied, “Oh, I’d love to work there”!)
Not content with making fresh, healthy, generous-sized meals and tempting desserts, Ange realised there was an opportunity to do more.
“My little vision from when we took over was to raise funds for our Compassion Australia young girl in the Philippines, called Nicole, and we started this with a tip jar.
“Then I found out many locals wanted to donate their surplus fruit and veg somewhere, so we created a space for them, with the mantra ‘Don’t let it hit the ground, and we’ll take it’.”
All money raised from the local produce goes directly to Nicole, her family, her school and village in Barangat Gatas in the Philippines.
“Last month we raised over $1,500. We also have seedlings for sale out the front from a local lady, and this goes to the village as well.”
Ange, Jason and Danielle also support the Blackall Range Lions Club, the MADD Brothers hinterland Movember group, and sell locally made lemon butter and tomato relish to support Restoring Hope Parkinson’s Therapy.
“They had their annual fundraiser here two weeks ago and it was a great success, which is brilliant!” smiled Ange.
When Covid hit, the team quickly realised that many members of the community would be isolated and decided to start offering home-cooked takeaway meals; personally delivering them during lockdown. These meals proved so popular they still continue, but without the delivery service.
“The locals kept us going during Covid,” said Jason. “They bought their takeaway meals and they came to buy their coffees from us, despite many of them having machines at home!”
Once everything began to gingerly open up again, the team were back with a new deli counter selling local and regional produce ideal for picnics, along with the $10 takeaway meals, and they have recently been approved an alcohol licence.
“It means couples and friends can now have lunch and a glass of Chardonnay, or a beer,” said Ange. “We had a couple walk out once because we couldn’t offer that to them, so the next day Danielle said, ‘right, we are getting that licence!’”
I asked if they are thinking of expanding to evenings, due to their popularity. Ange and Jason shook their heads, with wry smiles. “No evenings!” said Ange. “After nightwork policing, it’s so nice to do days.”
Jason still works two days a week in the police force. “It’s a good balance, and it was very helpful during Covid to have another source of income to support us. But I’m lucky as I don’t do nights any more.”
As we talked, a steady flow of customers weaved their way through the gift shop, full of work by local artists (once again), from uniquely framed mirrors and delicate wind chimes to furnishings and pottery, before being tempted by the smell of fresh coffee, cakes and tasty savouries.
I asked what their favourite part of running The Barn on Flaxton was, but I suspected I knew the answer:
“Our team –we love the vibe and the energy here,” Ange confirmed.
“And the customers, the locals. We’re interested in people. I’m a pretty social person and I can talk!” Her eyes twinkled, and she and Jason laughed at the truth in this statement.
I decided to buy some brekkie before heading off, and eventually left this welcoming place with a full belly and a full heart.