Hear from the bright and bubbly personality behind Equium Social
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Over the past few months, we’ve been checking in with some of our region's most talented – a Hunter Valley chef at the top of their game, the local queen of aesthetic beauty, our city's go-to cheery artist and illustrator, and a mother-daughter floral duo – to hear about how they marry together their core passions whilst successfully running a small business.
On the corner of Maitland Road and Selwyn Street in Mayfield East sits one of Newcastle’s favourite cafes – Equium Social. We sat down with one half of the business duo, owner Jacques Deloraine, to delve into Equium Social’s ever-evolving business journey.
Let’s take things right back – how did you first get into the hospitality industry and what inspired you to do so?
It was probably when I first visited Bayleaf in Byron Bay. This was years ago, and today, it’s incredibly successful. When we first went, it was this dingy little coffee shop but they made this BLT and it just blew my socks off. I don’t why it was so good, but it just was.
That was the first moment when I thought this could be a really fun industry to get into. It was a ‘love at first sight’ kind of thing. As soon as I got stuck into the hospitality scene, I just loved it. It’s such a high energy and beautiful way to do your week.
Can you take me on a brief tour of the Equium Social business journey?
I remember driving past this building with my dedo [grandfather] one day. I mentioned to him that this would be such a good venue. It’s got the most epic parking and it’s a corner building. Who doesn’t love a corner building? Plus, it had all this great glass at the front.
My dedo happened to know the owner of the building and we got into talks and eventually took it over. We opened in December of 2017, and at that stage we were a pretty small team – probably only 11 or 12 of us.
We did a solid two or three years in that old set-up where we had rooms everywhere and it was really clunky. Then when Covid hit, we had a chance to finally do this big renovation we were planning. We finished the renovations and opened back up, right as lockdowns came back into motion. That’s when we launched our little side gig, Gung Gung’s.
Gung Gung’s was a Cantonese/Chinese takeaway joint. It was a bit of fun for the team amid an absolute shitshow of a time and it worked, and in a really big way. We did that for three months and we still get asked about it today.
Once we opened back up after the second round of lockdowns, we kind of really kicked into gear. We were able to grow the team to that next level and here we are in 2023 – soon to celebrate our sixth year in business!
Speaking of Gung Gung’s – do you have plans to bring it back?
This building allows us so much room to grow and expand the Equium Social brand, and at the moment, we’re looking at designing and creating a little Gung Gung’s offering in the space next door.
We have such a strong desire to bring it back in a huge way. Both Remy and I think that Gung Gung’s could become one of our big things and something we can really push. Whether that’s here in Newcastle, in Sydney, or wherever else!
Australian cafe culture has seen our neighbourhood cafes become so much more than just places to eat and drink. They’re a part of the community culture. How does it feel to have Equium Social as such a strong part of the local community?
Our cafes really are the modern day pubs these days. We feel really honoured to be such a big part of the local community here in Mayfield.
For this area, Equium Social has become the meeting spot. Everyone who has a business in the area, it’s where they have their meetings which is fantastic. Whenever family is up, this is where they are coming.
You can’t not feel a big sense of honour to hold that for people, so it’s important for us to always keep this space neutral and open for everyone. We see Equium Social as a place people can come to and just escape.
When you first opened Equium Social in 2017, did you ever see it being as successful as it is today?
I definitely didn’t think it would become as big as it has. There are some weekends when I have the luck of having the weekend off, drive past and see the space – I just go woah.
Don’t get me wrong, there have been a lot of moments. I remember in that first year, there were weeks where we would have to chip in just to make payroll. That’s what small business is, that’s where it starts. But, I didn’t think it would get to this stage today so quickly.
How would you describe the approach and philosophy of your offering here at Equium Social?
Equium Social is just real. It’s real food and it’s honest food. It’s the stuff that’s going to make you feel really good and that will continue to kind of power you whenever you’re coming in.
It’s just proper old-school cooking. Rem is not a chef, she’s not old-school trained at all. Everything she does is coming from the heart and her desire to feed and create.
That concept of old school cooking is coming back into trends in a big way. Proper old-school, honest cooking, and being big on flavour. Our true secret to success is Rem. Her flair and her creativity in our kitchen is just amazing.
Behind all the creativity coming out of the kitchen, the top-notch coffee, and those wholesome community cafe vibes, is the nitty gritty of doing business. How do you manage the day-to-day running of the cafe?
When we first opened, we were using these old school clunky tills and I was coming in every day to pull reports and set everything up for the next day.
We came across Square in 2020, about two years after we opened, and they just represented a really easy user interface and system. It was a very simple approach to uploading all of our menus and keeping it all streamlined.
The biggest thing when we started working with Square, was that I could clock in anywhere and see what was happening. It was really fantastic to have that power on my phone wherever I was.
It was such a game changer. Square really simplified it all – it’s simple, straightforward, and it works.
Since 2020, how has Square helped throughout the Equium Social business journey?
Being someone who runs a business via the numbers, Square has been fantastic because it produces those results for you wherever you are.
Day to day, I am constantly looking at those numbers. It’s awesome that I can do that from wherever now whether that be at the beach or at home.
Additionally, through Covid, we were able to launch our online store in some crazy turnaround time – around 12 hours. Square’s online store module [Square Online] was so easy to use. You would log in, set up a few templates, and input your current catalogue of menu items.
We did the same thing for Gung Gung’s, and the fact that we could go into a whole new business during Covid and it be successful, was hands down because of Square’s online store.
What do you love most about Equium Social and what do you think has helped make your business successful?
What’s there not to love about it? I honestly wouldn’t trade this lifestyle for much. It’s such a special thing to be a part of everyone’s day. There are not really many people walking through the door every morning unhappy. They’re happy to see us and to get their coffees. To be a part of that is super special, and to do it for a living and be surrounded by good food and coffee and that’s our job – we’re sold.
One of our mottos here is ‘we exist to inspire through the everyday ordinary,’ and that’s what it comes down to for us. It’s unreal to be focused on such simple things but to do it really well.
I think knowing and staying true to what it was that we wanted to achieve in 2017. Having that vision of having a space for really good food and coffee and then sticking to it.
Business is curveball after curveball and that’s going to continually happen. I think having those solid visions of where you want to be in a certain period are powerful.
What piece of advice would you give to emerging small business owners?
Get really clear on what it is that you actually want. Just keep that vision as forward in your head as you possibly can. Because it’s not going to be a red carpet walk there. Clear the schedule because it’s going to be chaos.
But at the end of the day, just know where it is that you want to go. If it is what you really want, you will get there.
There’s no way that doing what I’ve been doing over the past six years has been easy, but in all of those moments where it was the hardest, it was easy to come out of that head space because we were clear on where we wanted Equium Social to go.
What does the future look like for Equium Social?
At the moment, we’re really inspired by fantastic groups in hospitality that are doing really cool things. You’ve got these people that just have such a diverse range of offerings rather than copy paste blueprints everywhere.
We would love to turn this incredible corner that we’re lucky to have and continue building on it with Equium Social always being the heartbeat of it.
We have big plans for the warehouse space next door. Just before it, there’s a little space and I’ve always envisioned a bakery in there. I can see guys throwing bread through the window which I think would be epic.
Next door, maybe Gung Gung’s – watch this space. Plus, we’ve also thought about this whole rooftop garden idea – an urban farming type of thing. There really is so much usable space here. I don’t even think we’ve scratched the surface of what we hope this could be.
Overall, the hospitality industry can be incredibly taxing so sustainability for us is a huge one, and I’m not talking about where you get your food from. I’m talking about the sustainability of our crew and that’s massive. We’re trying to make it into an enviable career again as well, rather than just something that you end up in.
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