Eat & Drink

BEHIND THE BIZ // Sketch Coffee and Art

A Lovely Local Family Bringing The Flavour + Creativity To This Fab Space in Towradgi

The first time we drove past Sketch Coffee and Art in Towradgi we certainly did a double-take. We just had to get inside and find out what this light, bright, funky lil’ cafe was all about!

These guys have become a staple of the Towradgi and Illawarra coffee and food scene and we can’t seem to get enough.

We sat down with owners Hennie and Eve alongside their super talented artist daughter Jaq to get to know how we got so lucky to have this cafe in our town and what we can expect upon walking through those delightfully welcoming doors.

Here’s our chat!

1 :: Firstly, let’s get a little personal. Tell us how you ended up here in the Illawarra.

Hennie :: We’re originally from South Africa. Our customers tell us they love our accents. We emigrated 6 years ago because our daughters both married Australians.

Eve :: Handsome Australians!

Hennie :: We saw that a shop was vacant in Towradgi and we snapped it up and opened up cafe Sketch Coffee + Art. We worked on it for four months before we opened the doors. It had previously been a delicatessen so we had to put in the work to turn it into a coffee shop.

We went from strength to strength and decided to open up another cafe in Coledale which we built up into a gorgeous space and have recently sold in order to focus once more on our first baby in Towradgi.

2 :: We just love how good your coffee is! Were you always coffee superstars?

Eve :: When we first got here we couldn’t believe how many coffee shops there were and how obsessed people are with coffee. It was quite a wake-up call for us. Thank goodness for Jaq and her partner who knew what good coffee was all about. They took us to almost every coffee shop around plus roasters and we got to try lots of different blends and do some training.

Jaq :: We drank a lot of coffee! My parents are good with business and have been in business for a long time. They know the value of customer care. They’re both hard-working. That’s why I think they pulled through all the COVID uncertainty so well. Always finding a way to work around things and show their customers that they’re here for them.

Hennie :: A lot of shops closed down during the COVID period. It just shows how fortunate we were. Our locals supported us, they begged us not to close and we didn’t. They gave us the encouragement we needed to apply for our citizenship. We are so grateful to be here.

3 :: Yep we’ve heard about how much your customers love you guys! Even the four-legged ones, is that right?

Hennie :: We love the dogs who come with their owners! We see dogs as they’re coming up the street pulling their owners towards our cafe because they know we have treats for them.

Jaq :: These guys are like magnets for the dogs!!

4 :: So what were you doing before you came here and opened up Sketch?

Hennie :: We’ve been in hospitality for 15 years. We had a B&B in South Africa. Before that I was in music rights, working in copywriting and licensing.

Eve :: I was a buyer for an engineering firm which was a lot of pressure. After that I decided I’d had enough and started a lingerie business. I grew up sewing from a young age.

Hennie :: My brother worked in hospitality. One time I actually helped him to feed 1200 people for lunch. I thought ‘hey we might as well do this for ourselves.’ We didn’t want to work in the corporate world anymore. So then we bought a house, and transformed it into a guest house, just like we transformed a deli into a cafe here.

Eve :: Yep we bought a house, started renovating, and then we ended up with two houses. One wasn’t enough! I would run one while Hennie was running the other.

5 :: You sound like a real team! How do you operate such a bustling cafe?

Eve :: Both my daughters and their partners help out so much. Hennie and I have our designated jobs and then at the end of the day, we relax and go to Jaq’s for dinner!

Hennie :: It’s a real family business.

Jaq :: I think Mum and Dad work really well together – they haven’t murdered each other yet! They’re also amazing with food. My sister and I got used to eating really good food from a young age. They’ve also always been so hospitable, they love entertaining. So I think that’s really why the cafe works.

6 :: Oooh tell us more about the food!

Eve :: We know that to run a good business you have to have a high level of food and coffee. We change our menus for winter and summer.

In winter we serve a lot of curries and soups, in summer it’s more fresh salads, breaky burgers and wraps.

We have an amazing team. We give them lots of creative rein and they come up with some brilliant ideas. We also really try to cater for people who are gluten-free or have allergens. We understand how difficult it can be for them when eating out.

7 :: And what about all the beautiful art you have around the place?

Jaq :: It started when I was building my presence as an artist in the Illawarra. The cafe has all this wall space and we knew it would be an opportunity to showcase my work, make the cafe bright and beautiful and collaborate with other local makers to showcase their work. It was like a marriage of coffee and art.

Hennie :: Jaq gave it the name Sketch for that reason!

Eve :: I think Jaq is one of the most beautiful artists. Her work is amazing and as a parent, I’m so proud. Whenever someone comes in and asks about the art I just love telling them that it’s my daughter’s work.

Jaq :: We want people to come in and be creative. We have recently brought back the drawing caddies. This is a chance for kids and adults to come and have a little 10-minute draw and a coffee. We had to put them away due to COVID restrictions but we’re so happy to bring them out again.

Eve :: Yes, come and have a sketch at Sketch!

8 :: Wonderful! And tell us about the recent refurb at Towradgi? We love it!

Eve :: In June we closed for just under a week and our amazing team worked tirelessly to pull this together in such a short space of time. The fresh new look is stunning and we are so proud of the hard work that’s gone into it.

Jaq :: And the gallery gift store really is a dream come true. It’s a space for me to join forces and showcase my artworks alongside a female tribe of artists and makers, some who have been with us from the beginning, and are so inspiring in every way. Following their dreams, moving beyond their fears, stepping outside the lines and honouring their creative talents and endeavours.

Eve :: The Sketch family are really humbled to be able to showcase such talent. We really hope that next time you stop in for a coffee or a bite to eat, that you take a look around and support our beautiful tribe of creatives.

Be sure to pop in to Sketch Coffee and Art in Towradgi for a tasty brunch, yummy lunch and one delish coffee [or 2] soon, and browse the gorgeous gallery gift store whilst you’re there. Open 7 days!

Thanks, guys.

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