Born out of holidays spent dreaming of their own culinary venture, siblings Paul and Christina Paterno’s cocktail bar and restaurant Little Betty’s Bar in their childhood hometown of Kiama is still flourishing three years on.
Raised in a hospitality family, Paul previously owned hospitality businesses himself, including Kiama’s popular gelateria Licked.
Christina meanwhile worked in hospitality during her university days, before continuing in the industry while pursuing an acting career in film and TV in New York and Los Angeles for 10 years.
“We didn’t see her as much as we’d like to, so we tried to go on a holiday every year together and meet somewhere around the world,” Paul said.
“We’re enthusiasts of food and wine, so we would always dream up these beautiful businesses.
“We’d come up with what we’d like to offer, where it would be and how it would work – we were brainstorming all the time wherever we were overseas.”
Christina returned to Australia to renew her passport when COVID hit, closing borders and her return to the States.
Seizing the opportunity, the brother-sister duo decided to finally embark on their culinary venture together, fusing a cocktail bar with a full dining experience.
“It was probably about six months after she’d been here, we decided to finally do a business together,” he said.
“The business plan was always in place, but it was just going to depend on where it was going to be.”
When 55 Collins Street in Kiama became available, the pair jumped at the chance having already known the market from growing up in the area.
“This is our community and we felt like Kiama was missing this,” he said.
“Since we’ve been here, there are a lot more places that have popped up, but around that time three years ago, there just wasn’t much.”
It was a photo of the building with the name “MJ Clancy” on it, believed to date back to the early 1900s and now displayed inside their menu, that helped inspire the name “Little Betty’s Bar”.
“The previous owners passed on an archived photo of the building in its early days, and it had a family standing out the front,” he said.
“Someone said MJ Clancy ran it as a general store.
“We like to put a spin on tried-and-true classic cocktails, and our first menu had an old-fashioned using Amaro Montenegro and dark chocolate. We called it the ‘MJ Clancy’ as an ode to him.
“Then, when we were inspecting the premises, there were a few names written into the concrete out the back. ‘Betty’ was one of them.
“Even though we knew the little girl in the photo might not be Betty, the name felt fitting – it being such an old building, and that name being etched into the foundations at the backdoor of the property.”
The inspiration for the name didn’t stop there though.
“When we were renovating, there were some newspapers in the joists in the floor that were from the 1940s and on one of the pages was The ‘LB’ Crossword, which was quite crazy.
“That was what sealed the name for us – Little Bettys – because everything pointed to that.”
Paul said the premises had served various purposes over the years, from an apartment to a general store and, more recently, Bombo Clothing Co.
He said when it started, they set about establishing a distinct style to set it apart in the area.
“It’s the best of everything that we love and enjoy, and we’ve put our own identity into that.”
He said they weren’t trying to reinvent the wheel with their food, focusing instead on good honest shared dishes, such as beef carpaccio with Thai green chilli, prawn toast with Bloody Mary sauce, dry aged bone in rib eye with chimichurri, and shoestring fries with truffle parmesan.
“Everything we source is local, because we believe really good produce speaks for itself,” he said.
“You don’t need to do too much to it.”
He said people also came for the classic cocktails with an updated and seasonal twist, and the specially sourced wines.
“We pride ourselves on every aspect that we do, but it did start off as a cocktail bar where you can get a really good feed. Now, I think it’s all of the above.”
The pair, who also opened Little Betty’s more sophisticated sister, Wollongong’s Mae Mabel 18 months ago, have further plans for Little Betty’s Bar to expand its clientele.
“In the short term, we want to keep doing what we’re doing by bringing good wine, cocktails and food to Kiama,” he said.
“It’s nice for people in Kiama to have somewhere to go that’s a different offering where you can have one cocktail or a full meal that feels unrushed and unpretentious.”
Learn more about Little Betty’s Bar.