'Family comes first.'
Popular Mudgee burger joint, 53 Food Co served it final burger on December 12, ending a three-year journey for Steven Bowlay and his staff who have served up tens of thousands of meals to locals and tourists in the years since it opened.
As Steven sat down for an interview on a Thursday afternoon, he explained the business housed at Huntington Estate, so named because it was his 53rd job, was never a long-term play for him.
"I work every weekend. 53 is very consuming," he said. "It's big. It's a lot bigger than I ever imagined.
"We've got two beautiful girls, and we've got two really big businesses. And we struggled to get family time... So me and the wife can't both work flat out, it doesn't make sense. So I'm happy to do something with less of a consuming role.
"[I'm] really looking forward to spending at least one day on the weekend with the family."
In April 2020, 53 Food Co won the Mudgee Guardian 'best place burger in town' award as voted by locals.
From January 2022, Steven will move onto his next challenge, taking over Augustine's which will offer weddings - with 26 already booked for next year.
Revamping the business and the venue has been its own early hurdle for Steven and his team, but one he's been happy to take on.
"I want to get [to] the standard of what Mudgee has. So we're looking at new furniture, [and a new] interior. The actual venue and the kitchen and the facility is great. It just needs to be more in line with 2021 weddings," he said.
Weddings aren't foreign ground for Steven, having worked for a number of years previously in the industry in his early chef days.
"It's more of a high end market. It's a different skill level and food. It's what I was trained in initially, I did the first 10 years of my cheffing career in weddings," he said.
"So it's more exciting for a chef to do - for me, I should say - to do weddings and celebrations, they're good. They're fun, some people find them stressful but I find them fun."
"Be respectful and kind, you can't do everything."- Steven Bowlay
Steven always wanted 53 Food Co to be a place people fondly remembered and said he'd much rather end it while it's still popular than slowly peter out.
Since the announcement the business is as busy as it's ever been.
"We did 420 [burgers] on Saturday without Sydney here," he said.
"So it's as popular as it's ever been but it's the same. So for me as in growth and doing something different. I feel like I've hit the ceiling..."
Steven said he offered all of his staff a chance to come with him, which some did, while others remained at Huntington Estate.
Nicky Stevens at Huntington told the Mudgee Guardian they're planning to highlight the venue and offer a different kind of foodie experience.
"We're determined to keep it full of lovely locals," she said.
"It's been so much fun to connect with our lovely locals through this partnership with 53 Food Co. It's the reason we invited Steven to provide food on our site, and we're incredibly grateful to him for his energy and passion; and to the community for all the support.
"We're thrilled with how popular it's been."
Nicky said in 2022, Huntington will host a series of monthly take-overs featuring food trucks from around NSW with local live music.
"We think Mudgee locals are hungry for something new and different, in a family friendly and beautiful setting, so we will present a diverse range of quality street-food from around the world," she said. "And we'll have Steven back too."
For fans of 53 Food Co burgers, there is still a glimmer of hope. Steven is taking the signature food truck with him and said he hopes to offer pop ups in the future.
"Hopefully, there's a couple of ways we can continue next year to do the burgers, especially in the low wedding seasons, winter and end of autumn, and sometimes on summer nights," he said.
"We'll be able to do pop ups with the food truck. So I'll take the food truck to Augustine's and we'll be doing some kind of pop ups there and hopefully come back and do a pop up at Huntington estate for busy weekends..."
Steven mused on why he thinks 53 Food Co was as popular as it is, given there is plenty of competition around the region.
"I think the focus on quality and consistency is big," he said.
"I think keeping the staff happy brings people in. I think if you look after your staff, the word gets around that it's a good place to work.
"What I do is just not ask anyone to come here. I've never asked anyone to come here. I'm just more like, we'll just do good food and good product and be nice to customers. Don't be a dick is probably the biggest thing."
Steven wanted to thank the Mudgee community for all their support.
"Be respectful and kind, you can't do everything," he said.
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