19 April 2024

Brown Sugar owner shares the story behind cafe's sweet success

| Zoe Cartwright
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Tenille Dewhurst, owner of Brown Sugar Espresso, is dedicated to using the cafe as a way to uplift the community.

Tenille Dewhurst, owner of Brown Sugar Espresso, is dedicated to using the cafe as a way to uplift the community. Photo: Zoe Cartwright.

Brown Sugar Espresso in Mount Saint Thomas is a cafe with the sweetest ethos around.

The cafe has dished out quality coffee and pastries with a side of social good for the past seven years.

It’s been a port in a storm for many customers during tough times, and one of those was current owner Tenille Dewhurst.

Tenille left her corporate career to care for her mum when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and later dementia.

She would take her mum to Brown Sugar, then owned by Lucy Flemming, to enjoy a cuppa and cake and was impressed by Lucy’s dedication to the community.

“Lucy is just beautiful; she had a background as a social worker and had to leave after her breast cancer diagnosis,” Tenille said.

“It was her passion to give back to the community through Brown Sugar. She was always doing some form of food drive; during COVID she made up beautiful ‘happiness hampers’ for people, and people would come in, buy a coffee and pay it forward.

“When I heard it was for sale I thought there was no way Lucy would sell it, but she wanted to move back home to Tasmania.

“I just had this drive to buy it.”

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After some conversations with Lucy, Tenille followed her gut and purchased the business three years ago this August.

It wasn’t an easy time – Tenille’s mum had gone rapidly downhill.

“The day I had to put Mum into palliative care she came to the cake window and had her last long black and lemon meringue tart,” Tenille said.

“She passed a week later, on 4 August. It was my birthday on 6 August and I took over Brown Sugar on the 26th.”

Tenille said her mum’s death put her values in sharp focus, and helped her figure out how to continue Brown Sugar’s community-minded ethos.

She said her staff were an integral part of bringing joy to customers and the community.

All of Brown Sugar’s cakes, pastries and bread are produced by small local businesses, or their in-house chef.

The cafe donates all breads and pastries that haven’t sold by the end of the day to the Homeless Hub’s Lighthouse Kitchen on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and to a rotating roster of other good causes throughout the week.

“Mum was a very giving lady; if anyone was in need she’d be there to help with the cooking, shopping, laundry or just to sit and give comfort,” Tenille said.

“At Brown Sugar we won’t sell anything that’s more than a day old; everything comes in fresh seven days a week – but we don’t want to see the things that don’t sell go to waste.

“We go to Lighthouse and the people there have literally nothing, but for those two evenings they have a safe space to sit with their friends, have a laugh and know they’re going to receive a warm hearty meal.

“Other days we might do a drop to a family in the community if we know they’re having a tough time, or to the ER or children’s ward at the hospital, the ambulance or local domestic violence shelters.

“It brings me joy to see the simple act of giving food brighten someone’s day.”

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Tenille hopes her mum’s – and Lucy’s – legacy of giving will be passed down to her daughters.

She said she wanted them to be part of a community where people built each other up.

“I want them to know that even when times are tough and you feel down and out you can make a difference to someone else,” she said.

“I have a lot to be grateful for; I have an amazing coffee community, an amazing family and husband and two remarkable kids.

“It’s easy to get caught up in wanting to keep up with the Joneses and not take the time to appreciate what’s in front of us.

“The ups and downs of life – who’s to say it won’t be me with nothing in six months’ time? At least I know there are people out there who help and who care.

“With Mum passing at such an early age it made me realise we get into a rut of existing and not living.

“I don’t want to exist, I want to live, and I want to do what I can to put positivity out into the world.”

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