This week Vivid Minds Vivid Futures interviews Matt Neary, owner of the recently established Laneway Café in Armidale.
Tell me a bit about yourself?
I’m originally from Brisbane and spent most of my younger years working in hospitality – bars and restaurants in Brisbane, a casino, and 5-star restaurants. I travelled overseas to London and spent two years over there managing backpackers. While I was there, I met my wife; we’ve been together for 15 years now. When I came back to Brisbane, I worked in finance for a while – I’ve probably had a hundred jobs in my time! I love taking on new adventures and trying something new and really, I don’t take anything too seriously – I like to try things and see how it goes. Don’t overthink it – jump in and give it a crack.
How did you end up in Armidale?
I moved to Armidale two and a half years ago, originally to start a free-range egg business. I had 1000 chooks and a free-range caravan. I ran the business at Kentucky for a bit over a year.
What led you to start the Laneway Café?
I sold the free-range egg business during the drought. It was very intensive – seven days a week – and it was taking up too much of my time. It was hard doing that and having time with my young family. My second daughter was born during that time, so my wife and I decided that if I was going to start a new business, it had to consider our family situation and work around it.
I have always wanted to work with something that involved paddock-to-plate and the chook business worked in nicely with cafes. Through my deliveries to cafes and restaurants I had built up a bit of a business network and thought there was an opportunity in this area. When I saw this place come up, I jumped on it.
What led you start a new business in the middle of a pandemic?
We decided to sign the lease at the start of coronavirus. It was the flip of a coin as to whether we started it then or pushed it out. We decided to jump in and get our names out there while all of this was happening. It’s been a slow build, but we’re growing and building people’s trust and loyalty. I think that some people in Armidale are in a rut – they have their chosen spot and that’s the only place they will go to. That’s the main reason we opened when we did. We thought that while everyone else was closed we could take the opportunity to start up and offer something different.
Tell me about the Laneway Café
When we took on this space, it was very bland. I really wanted to bring some colour into Armidale and also wanted to start something new that wasn’t just the typical bacon and eggs. We’re trying to stay away from the sit-down traditional café that’s been done before. We want something that’s got a small menu with good food and we want to be able to own that little pocket.
What we aim to do is bring in fresh ingredients, no packaged or frozen foods. That gives us a point of difference: everything is fresh – all our toasties, salad wraps, hot meals – nothing is processed.
As Laneway is open from 8–2, Monday–Friday, I still get time with the girls at home and we can just centre all of our energy onto the businesses of Armidale instead of the weekend trade on a Saturday morning. We try to make everything in store and we’re just starting to get a catering side up and running now.
What do you like most about running your own business?
The interactions you get with everyone. Having fun on social media, joking around with people who come into the café – it’s social. Being able to close down at the end of the day and go home to my family and have that separation is really nice. Not having a thousand chooks is pretty good!
What advice would you have to businesses starting out?
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. You will get the ups and downs but if you’re doing something different that you care about, and you’re doing it well, people will get behind it.
What inspires you?
I love hospitality – everything about it. It’s just about having fun with people, trying to bring colour into this space and bring something different to Armidale.
Do you have secret for success?
I’ll let you know when I find one. I don’t think there is a secret. Just keep pushing.
What’s next for Laneway?
Pushing our catering. Our website is now live. In the next few weeks we’ll be offering CBD delivery to help people through those cold days. We’ll be delivering lunch anywhere within a 500m radius of the café. Click and collect will also be up soon. You will be able to tell us when you want your food and then you can collect it at a certain time. That’s taken a bit of time to get up and running, but it’s nearly complete.