Sometimes, you interview a woman and think, "She is my type of person." For me, this is Julia Hughes.
Case in point: she has a background as a marketer and journalist (me too), has a busy family life (same here), runs an artisan gelato van (I wish I did), and has recently launched a gin bar (which I’d happily reside in, given the choice). So interviewing Julia to find out more about her incredible story was a no-brainer.
Here’s what GRACE Collective member Julia Hughes had to tell us about her life, family and business. Get ready for a delicious, wild ride.
Family photos are by Kendall Marjanovic and Gelato/Bar Botanica images are by Jacs Powell.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your family?
Husband Dan, daughter Dylan, 5 and baby boy Spike, 18-months, makes four of us. I find having two kids pretty full on. But thank my lucky stars we are all healthy, we get plenty of sunshine and water, and have lots of laughs thanks to Dan’s terrible singing and refusal to take most things seriously.
Now you need to share all the details on your amazing businesses …
Our first business baby is Mr Goaty Gelato – artisan all natural gelato and sorbet made from scratch by my very talented chef partner. We started out making all goat’s milk gelato (hence the name) but most of our product now is traditional dairy gelato and vegan sorbet with a few signature goat’s milk flavours. We have a couple of fun gelato bikes and a vintage ice cream truck that we hire out for weddings, parties and corporate events.
When we moved to the Coast a few years ago we also moved gelato production to a kitchen in a local gin distillery. It was one of those fateful moves, we found ourselves making gelato in a beautiful mud brick building surrounded by botanical gardens. We use as much as we can from the garden in our gelato – oranges, lemons, lavender, geranium, even fresh turmeric. Customers were always asking us where they could buy the gelato aside from at markets and events, and the space at Distillery Botanica is so magic it seemed a shame not to be making full use of it. So earlier this year we opened Bar Botanica. We sell our gelato, coffee, plus light meals and cakes, and soon we’ll be adding local wines and gin cocktails. It’s garden-to-plate dining. Dan makes incredible food based on what is growing locally and seasonally and our lovely customers can enjoy it all while sitting on our leafy terrace or on a picnic rug in the garden. It is a dream.
What did your career entail prior to Mr Goaty Gelato and Bar Botanica?
Before my gelato career (still feels funny saying that’s my job) I worked in PR and marketing. I studied media, worked briefly as a journalist and moved into finance and investment marketing in Sydney and London. It was a stable and very well-paid gig, but ultimately not for me. My last full-time corporate job was Australian head of marketing for a foreign bank. My daughter was only two and I requested to work from home one day a week. This request was denied. Shocked and upset, I resigned on the spot. In hindsight it was a push I’m grateful for, but like many women who’ve experienced similar it was extremely disheartening. At that point we decided to go for it with Mr Goaty, so I freelanced as a Marketing Consultant for a year or so to keep money coming in while working on our business.
Work-wise I’m busier than ever now but hugely fulfilled and motivated. It’s bloody tough managing all aspects of a business – admin, marketing, staff etc. but working on my own terms, with flexibility and agency counts for so much.
What inspired the launch of Mr Goaty Gelato?
Believe it or not, Dan has always loved goats! And I’ve always loved ice cream. We tried goat’s milk ice cream in the UK and that planted a seed. When we moved back to sunny Sydney and Dylan was born he was ready to try something new and get out of restaurant kitchens. His feeling for flavours and cheffing brilliance, combined with the inspiration we felt living in Australia where produce and food is so amazing is really what inspired the gelato.
What prompted your move from Sydney to the Central Coast?
Have you tried buying a house in Bronte?! There were a few prompts but money was definitely a factor. The only way we could reconcile starting a business (ie. zero income) and buying a house for our little family was to leave Sydney. I grew up in the East and Dan had caught the surfing bug so our new home had to be beachside and close enough to the city. As well as affordable real estate we wanted a slower pace, more space and access to decent food and coffee! The Central Coast ticks all these boxes and many more.
How are you finding life on the Central Coast?
We love it here. The natural beauty of the Coast blows me away. You’ve got stunning beaches and Bouddi National Park, with everything else in the way of shops, services and transport that makes life easy. It feels like the food scene up here has really started to take off in the past few years and it’s so exciting and satisfying to be a part of that.
What are some of your favourite pairings with gin?
I tend to stick to classics done well. Faves are an icy G&T, a dry Martini or a Negroni. Moore’s Dry Gin with Fever Tree Tonic and a slice of lime is sundowner perfection.
How do you make time for yourself? What does that look like?
Right now it looks like a lunchtime yoga class, a quick lap session at the pool once a week if I’m lucky, and a cup of tea with my kindle on a Sunday afternoon while Spike sleeps. Time for myself is scarce, but I’m counting on that changing soon when Dylan starts school and Spike is in full-time daycare.
How is it working with your husband?
Pretty good actually. We both work very hard and respect each others input and value. Sometimes there are blowups but for the most part we’re in it together. It’s a very honest working relationship! Our skills are so different. I’m in complete awe of his cooking and he thinks I’m a “really good emailer.”
How did you manage to create a network in a new area?
It’s been surprisingly easy to find a local network and friends on the Coast. Lots of families move here from Sydney so there’s common ground, kids the same age, and a general openess to meeting new people. I think we have more time up here. Most people I know work part-time or freelance, cost of living is lower so you can afford to. I was among the first of my mates to have a baby in Sydney and that felt very lonely. Thankfully I’ve met enough beautiful, supportive and soulful women on the Coast that it feels like home.
What have been some of the biggest challenges in setting up and running your own businesses?
The first couple of years are such a steep learning curve and it’s brutal working so hard for minimal and inconsistent financial return. We reached that magic 2-3 year mark when you actually start making money, but other growing pains start. Now the biggest challenge is finding good staff and keeping them. On a personal level there is sacrifice. Running a business means a lot of stress and strain on your mental health and relationships come under pressure. Start up investment and cost of running a business is huge. I don’t buy many clothes, I drive a smelly old car (not the ice cream van) and our holidays and time-off are very limited.
What tips do you have for women who might be looking to make a shift into running their own businesses?
No half measures. Perhaps some women manage a side hustle but my advice is to give it everything – your time, money, and your best pitch always. Building a network of professional women you admire and genuinely like helps immensely when your need short-cuts, advice and sounding boards.
What are the 10 things you’re loving at the moment?
- Aldi chocolate, Aldi wine, Aldi corn chips…basically Aldi!
- My local library
- Swell drink bottles
- Go-to Tinted Zincredible
- The Ordinary serums
- Mr Goaty Passionfruit Cheesecake Gelato with Hazelnut Crumb.