My first Grafton memory is arriving at my in-law’s house in Mary Street in the dark. We arrived after a storm, the sound of crickets were in the air and the fresh smell of warm damp earth is something I will always remember. I wrote in my diary about this when I was sitting on the Tube in London considering the move back to Grafton.
When we first moved here we missed Sydney terribly, but we have etched out our own place in the community and we love living here in Grafton. The lifestyle choices of living in the Clarence Valley brought opportunities for our children. Grafton has great teachers, sports and is geared towards families. Our children are the 5th generation of the Hackett family to live here. It does take a village to raise a child.
We’ve come from humble beginnings. We have grown personally, influenced by our families, the people we have worked for, and with, and the community. Toast Espresso is about people but it’s more about our community. Our story is the classic example of “it takes 20 years to be an overnight success”.
I always loved Mum’s cooking, the roast dinners, biscuits and cakes. The delicious, simple, honest food from my childhood definitely sparked my passion for food.
I left school in 1980 when I was 17. The first three months of my cooking career were spent in Sydney in a pre-apprenticeship course alongside now legendary chef David Thompson.
I landed a job in the seafood industry and was lucky enough to establish friendships and connections with chefs like Matt Moran and Christine Manfield among others. I worked in a number of restaurants in Sydney and then Adelaide.
I met Judy on a blind date, we fell in love and later married in Sydney. We left Australia and travelled through France, Italy and the United Kingdom. In 1996 we decided to come home to Grafton. Our daughter Georgia was one at that stage and we wanted her to have time with her grandparents.
Coming home wasn’t easy for either of us. We were used to the pace of city life and our arrival in Grafton came with its challenges. After the first couple of years of being here we realised it was a really lovely place to bring up a family and it was harder to leave.
The lifestyle choices of living in the Clarence Valley brought opportunities for our children
We spent many years working in hotel bistros and then running Georgie’s, our fine dining restaurant at the Grafton Regional Gallery.
We were involved in the founding years of the annual Gate to Plate event, which is now a culinary magnet for food lovers.
Grafton is a big pub town. Pubs shape the community and culture. Locals celebrate, commiserate and catch up at the pub. Twenty years on, there has been a gradual move towards more business being done in cafés.
The shift from beers to coffee brought us to our latest venture Toast Espresso. Our collaboration with local Maclean coffee roaster, Botero’s Danny Young, helped shape this latest project.
After a decade of work in fine dining, missing out on evenings and time with our daughters, we envisioned a new day time business serving great coffee, and it grew from there.
Inside info: Toast Espresso 31 Prince Street Grafton Open 6am − 5:30pm Mon to Fri, 6:30am – 2pm Sat & 7am – 11:30am Sun
Interviews by Leigh Bancroft. Photographed for Clarity by Gary Parker.