CAFE LAUNCH: Samantha Wright and Shayne Obee have reopened the Grafton Hospital shop.
CAFE LAUNCH: Samantha Wright and Shayne Obee have reopened the Grafton Hospital shop. Adam Hourigan

Healthy new lease on life for Grafton's hospital cafe

THERE'S been a total U-turn in food preparation for the new lessees of one of Grafton's iconic cafes.

Shayne Obee and his partner Samantha Wright opened the Grafton Base Hospital shop for their first day's trading yesterday, trading as Lola's Diner and Cafe.

For the previous 14 months the pair had been operating a mobile cafe at the new Grafton jail construction site, where the market was for a totally different style of food.

"Here we have 75per cent healthy food, but out at the jail it was about 75per cent unhealthy," Mr Obee said.

"There was a lot of pies and Coke and when we put in a deep fryer, then that side of it really took off."

He said the switch to the healthier foods - now mandated at the new venture under NSW Health guidelines - fitted in with their personal lifestyles.

"Sam, my partner, runs a blog as well - a healthy eating, healthy living blog, putting content together for other bloggers who blog for Woolworths and prepare menus and other things," he said.

"When the opportunity came up and it was all with Health NSW's healthy eating stuff, it was an easy choice."

While the couple operate happily under these guidelines, they are able to have a good selection of "treats" on display - although rules apply.

"Everything is portion controlled," Mr Obee said.

"We have macaroons and slices and other sweet stuff, but they have to be in small serves and can only take up a certain percentage of servery space.

"If people come in and want something that's not good for them, they can still get it, just in smaller portions."

Mr Obee said the lease they had signed gave them firm guidelines to operate under.

"Basically, NSW Health has said there's too many sick people, we're spending too much money taking care of people because they're not taking care of themselves," he said.

"They said, 'We're going to be the ones who stand up and say enough's enough - at least when you're in one of our facilities, you're going to have something healthy'."

He said there was more of a reporting aspect to it. "It's a little bit more involved than us signing the lease and them handing over the keys."

The new lessees are also delighted to have former hospital shop employee Vicki Lawson behind the counter with them.

"It's been great today," Mr Obee said. "We've had staff coming in all day, people saying how great it is to have Vicki back working here.

"She's been a great asset for us. She worked for the last owners of the shop and the ones before them too.

"She's a real store of knowledge about the shop and what our customers like."

Mr Obee said the couple were always looking for ways to expand their business, either through his partner's blog or at the hospital.

"The hospital's due for redevelopment shortly and there's talk about a new retail corridor involved in that, potentially moving a cafe in there," he said.

"I'm sure it will go to tender like everything else, but I would like to think we would have enough knowledge to be very competitive.

"We'll have to see how it goes."