Customer Story: Cruise Espresso

Just a few streets back from Freshwater beach, Cruise Espresso is the very epitome of the laid back, beachside holiday feel of the neighbourhood. Famed for being the birthplace of surfing in 1914, it’s always been a popular destination for Sydneysiders and tourists alike. If you’re looking for a great coffee and a warm, welcoming atmosphere in Freshwater, Cruise Espresso is a must visit.


We caught up with owner Michelle Howlett to hear how she has translated the welcoming, rustic and laid back vibe that makes Freshwater so popular, into a home away from home that welcomes visitors from all walks of life. “It’s just like a home, a room in your home where you can drink coffee, but it’s open to everyone.”

Michelle took over Cruise Espresso four and a half years ago, as she was looking for both an escape from her Corporate life and wanted a job where she could spend more time with her daughter. “It just killed my soul being in a corporate office. So I knew at some stage I had to go out. And I did.”


Michelle used to be a regular customer at Cruise Espresso, working out of the café while she looked for business opportunities of her own. She was planning to open a gourmet ice-cream store, but when the owner at the time decided to move back to New Zealand with his young family, he approached her and asked if she’d be interested. 


When Michelle took over, she relished the opportunity to inject her own style into the café, from food options to décor. “I changed everything to my own way and my style. Coffee beans, everything.” It’s not just visuals and menu options, Michelle, has focused on bringing her own personal values into the café too.

“I always said to myself if I ever own something or do something it will be on a very small basis because that just killed me [in large corporate roles].” In keeping the café small, she’s built not just a loyal team, but a family, which becomes very clear when you see how the staff working at the café interact with Michelle, and the loyal regulars who come in. “My team, it's more like we're just a family. The locals too - we know everyone and they know us. We’re very community based.”


Supporting local businesses is important to Michelle too, who buys in as many supplies as she can from local businesses and markets, which is one of the many things she loves about being in Freshwater. “It’s that beachside chill atmosphere. Unpretentious. Just down to earth. Just friendly. People look after each other.”

The most popular dishes at Cruise Espresso are the green mashed avo with basil pesto and coriander, the bacon and egg rolls and buckwheat pancakes, which are vegan and gluten free. “The vegan, raw and gluten free markets are getting very big, so we’ve learned how to cater to all of them. Kids have so many allergies these days that it’s really important. Cafes have to go that way or at least have a section where they can cater to them, especially in Freshie where it’s families, kids, young mums.”


One of the biggest challenges for Cruise Espresso is the competition in the area. “Freshwater is so small but there are eleven coffee machines just in this area, so there's big competition but I never worry about it. You just have to focus on the products in your own cafe, the service and just worry about your own back yard.”

Cruise Espresso is so small, in fact, that they don’t have a kitchen, which makes ordering high quality produce and bakery items all the more important. “Quite a bit of the bakery stuff is from Luxe. Customers really love the muffins and banana bread. They are the highlights that they always comment on. It's very important for us to have high quality food, and it’s so easy to order from Luxe.” Along with the baked goods, Luxe also supplies sourdoughs, wraps and potato buns for the ever-popular bacon and egg rolls.

 “There’s no way I can compete with all these cafes around me that have kitchens and they cook up such amazing food. So I get all the best ingredients and make beautiful wraps and sandwiches and people like that. It's small but I don't need anything bigger.


Michelle is acutely aware of how tough it is to start a food-based business whilst also balancing her home life. “Everyone's in this this hospitality journey and it's tough. So tough. Wages, rent, so many little things behind the scenes to worry about. When you see cafes shut after eighteen months, two years it's such a worry. You look at yourself and you get so humble. You have a lot of fear as a business owner, and you go through so much. But after four and a half years I think my priority is being able to be the best single mum ever for my daughter. Your priorities shift from just making money, making profits to also supporting the baristas and staff who are also trying to make a life for themselves.”


 As for what she loves about the business? “People, I think. How you can make some people happy by just coming in here...just by smiling and having a chat. We’re just a small space but the doors are so open. Anytime, we're all here!”


Trish Roubetis