Drury Woolnough – Drury Lane

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Drury, you are the namesake and culinary force behind one of Port Macquarie’s much loved eateries, Drury Lane. Can you tell us a little bit about your business and how it came about?

My wife, Kate, and I moved our young family to Port Macquarie after 10 years in Sydney, with the intention of opening our own café as well as providing a better lifestyle to raise our children. I have always wanted to have my own place. Our aim with Drury Lane was to create a relaxed, casual environment with a strong focus on pared back, simple food to be enjoyed with family and friends.

And can you tell us a little bit about your background before moving to Port Macquarie?

I was born and raised in Canada and at age 16, I got my first job in a kitchen washing dishes; occasionally they also let me wash lettuce. I made the decision (after washing A LOT of lettuces) that I wanted to become a chef. I am lucky I found something that I love doing so early on. This profession is certainly one that needs to be based on a love for what you do. I’ve always said, “I wouldn’t wish being a chef on my worst enemy, but I wouldn’t want to be anything else”.  Having said that, being a chef has given me the opportunity to travel around the world and work for some amazing chefs in some amazing places. I got my first Head Chef position at the age of 22 running a kitchen on an island in the middle of a giant lake. We would receive one delivery a week (weather permitting), and a lot of the time the order was wrong. You REALLY have to learn how to think on your feet when they send you 20 kg of cucumbers instead of zucchinis.

Since then I have run and set up many different kitchens from scratch, but this is the first time it’s all mine.

The passion and enthusiasm for what you do is infectious and inspiring, to say the least. What is it that you love most about running your business?

Freedom! The fact that I can cook what I want to cook. I’m just so lucky that our customers seem to have embraced that too. Having the opportunity to be only really limited by my imagination is something that is truly special. It is true what they say ”do what you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life”.

You have a very strong ethos to feature locally sourced, fresh produce on your menu. Why is this important to you?

It just makes sense. Being able to talk with our farmers, to go to the farms and see first-hand why the pork that we serve tastes so good is amazing. All I practically have to do is add heat, and the ingredients take care of the rest! I have always been interested in cooking seasonal local food, and it didn’t occur to me when we were looking to move to Port that I’d be able to do that here. But it all makes perfect sense that this is all so easily accessible in places like Port Macquarie. We have fantastic local farmers, who are so passionate about their produce, and it’s all on our doorstop. Literally! The Real Food market which is held in front of our café started up about a week before we first opened the doors, and it presented us with the perfect opportunity to meet our local farmers.

As the market has grown, so has my knowledge of all the amazing local produce that is available. Our love of using these ingredients really grew by getting to know all of the great people who grow them. It allows me the opportunity to really try out different items that you just can’t walk in and grab off of a shelf next to the Tim Tams.

What are some of the challenges you face running your business, and how do you manage to overcome them?

One of the biggest challenges is the amount of time spent away from my family. I try to balance this by closing Sunday and Monday. This gives us the opportunity to regroup each week. Running a small business is relentless; it was important to Kate and I to make this business work for our family. It’s still a work in progress, and we do hope to eventually expand on our hours, but we are trying to pace ourselves too!

What advice would you offer to other people looking to open a restaurant or café in a regional area?

I am really grateful as to how we have been received into this community. I think there are a lot of benefits to having a business in a regional area, and gaining the support of a smaller community is one of them. We would also have no hope of opening for the hours that we currently do and surviving had we done this in Sydney. There are obviously challenges as well, but I think my biggest piece of advice would be to stick to what you love, create a strong product, and stand by it. Also, you can’t rely on the tourism trade alone; the locals are who support your business year round. They are the people you need to take care of!

As a chef and a business owner, what would you deem as your essential tool of the trade and why?

As a chef, it’s the ingredient; it really speaks for itself. As a business owner, it’s my team. They are the work horse of any business. They take your plates, remember your coffee and smile when you are having a bad day. All this, while tolerating my endless micro managing! Basically, without them I’m just a guy with an oven. Also, having an amazing business partner who is also your amazing wife helps a lot!

And finally, if you could invite any three business people to lunch, who would they be and why would you invite them?

Magnus Neilson, The Franks (I cheated, that’s two people) and David Chang. They are all chefs, who have created amazing businesses, doing what they love, and being integral to what they believe in. I would love to pick their brains about what drives them, what challenges they have faced, and how they have overcome them. I’d love to just sit down and hear their stories.

Thanks for your time, Drury!

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