How a Top Sydney Hospitality Duo Transformed This Coastal Café

Malibu Cafe, Wamberal

Having built a profile working in some of NSW’s top restaurants, husband and wife duo Jax and Nathan Darling were ready for a change. Nathan had been head chef of Sails at Lavender Bay, Gunners Barracks and Sergeants’ Mess, Jax had worked in guest relations and VIP hospitality at Otto, and they’d done a stint together running Bannisters at Mollymook. “Big restaurants, big numbers, big hours, big expectations,” says Jax. “We’d spent our whole careers working in environments like that.”

Malibu Cafe, Wamberal

So it proved a serendipitous moment when, in January 2019, friends who owned a café in Wamberal, on the NSW Central Coast, reached out to see if the Darlings would be interested in taking over the business. It was an opportunity they couldn’t pass up. 

“We were at the stage in our careers where, as much as we’d loved working in those great places, we were looking for something different. We wanted to give it a go and work for ourselves – create something that was ours.”

In June 2020, the Darlings opened Malibu – a casual-cool eatery where salty-haired patrons pop in for a takeaway coffee after their morning swim or surf, while in-house diners enjoy a menu ranging from buddha bowls to burgers, smoothies and sandwiches. Staples such as avocado toast and bacon and egg rolls are elevated to new heights – but without stuffy pretence.

Malibu Cafe, Wamberal

“It’s quite an iconic location, and while we wanted to create something new, we still wanted that sense of continuity for the community,” says Jax. “We wanted to maintain that really warm and friendly relaxed vibe right by the beach but add a certain level of service that comes with our industry experience at high-level restaurants.”

Jax says the welcoming community nature of the Central Coast has provided the perfect environment for starting a business – but it hasn’t been without growing pains.

“One thing I’ve learnt is that it’s a journey. We wanted to make everything perfect right from the start but that was unrealistic. You need time and constant effort to continuously improve the business. It took me time to understand we couldn’t just explode onto the scene with the perfect everything.”

Malibu Cafe, Wamberal

Despite these teething problems – and several months of lockdowns – Malibu has grown steadily and now employs a team of 15 full-time and casual staff. 

One of the keys to growth and adapting to challenges? Their American Express® Qantas Business Rewards Card. Jax says the pair took out the Card in late 2020, about six months after opening Malibu, because they needed flexible spending power and rewards they would actually use.

“It gives us that peace of mind we need,” says Jax. “Small business owners will always have to manage cash-flow challenges and unexpected costs. Having up to 51 days to pay for purchases¹ on the Card frees up cash and ensures we can pay our suppliers on time.”

With no pre-set spending limit on the Card, businesses can access up to $1.5 million in a line of unsecured funding across a 12 month period.² This helped the Darlings’ business pivot to takeaway during the 2021 lockdowns, giving them the funds for the takeaway packaging, supplies and social media marketing they needed to get their shifted service up and running.

Qantas American Express Ultimate Card

​​“The pandemic brought such uncharted territory for our industry. But the flexibility of the Card let us develop our popular Dinner Box menu, which in turn allowed us to keep as many staff as possible employed and pay them on time each week. It was nice knowing it was there as a safety net – as a café owner with busy service periods, anything that can remove stress is gold.”

This spending power is also helping them as they move into their next chapter, putting staff through formal training courses and evolving the Malibu Café offering. “We’ve recently been granted approval to trade in the evening on weekends with a liquor licence,” says Jax. “With no pre-set spending limit² on our American Express Qantas Business Rewards Card, we can purchase the extra furniture we need.” 

Malibu Cafe, Wamberal

Earning up to 1.25 Qantas Points per $1 spent³ on everyday business spend with the Card, the Darlings use these points for personal travel and to reward their team. “It's not just Nathan and I – everyone works really hard in our business, from our baristas to our kitchen team. It’s nice to be able to transfer Qantas Points to them to say thanks for all they do to make Malibu so special.”

Off the back of the café’s success, the Darlings opened a second venue – Poolside Terrigal, a café and bar at the Star of the Sea resort (pictured below). And another American Express Qantas Business Rewards Card isn’t far behind.

Malibu Cafe, Wamberal

“Because we’ve had such success with our Card with Malibu, we’re looking to get another one for Poolside,” she says. “The flexibility the Card’s given us to free up more cash flow and move resources around to allocate to different needs has been so important for us.”

Unlock the possibilities for your business. Earn 150,000 bonus Qantas Points + $450 Qantas Flight Voucher* with the American Express® Qantas Business Rewards Card. Minimum spend $3,000 in the first 2 months of your approval date. New American Express Card Members only. Offer ends 10 August 2022. T&Cs apply. Learn more.

Unlock the possibilities

Jax Darling shares her top small business tips.

Malibu Cafe, Wamberal

• The key to… operating sustainably

Malibu emphasises brand integrity when choosing which suppliers to partner with, opting for ethically sourced coffee, tea and milk produced by companies that pay fair wages and maintain safe work practices. “With no pre-set spending limit², our American Express Qantas Business Rewards Card makes it easy for us to steer into those values because we have the flexibility to pay so many different suppliers with one card on all their different schedules. We’ve used some of the same suppliers throughout our time in the industry, and those relationships are very important to us and vital to the success of our business.”

• The key to… maximising cash flow 

With up to 51 days to pay for purchases¹ on the Card, the Darlings can navigate the ups and downs of running Malibu. “As a small business, sometimes you have unforeseen expenses – equipment breaks or there’s building damage. Having up to 51 days to pay for purchases¹ gives us the wiggle room to cover these expenses while also paying our suppliers.”

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Amex Qantas Business Rewards

• The key to… finding work/life balance

The hospitality lifestyle isn’t very conducive to family holidays. “Between our long working hours back in Sydney and getting the new café set up, we haven’t had time for a family holiday for years,” says Jax. But the Qantas Points they earn with their American Express Qantas Business Rewards Card will help the Darlings get away for a well-deserved break this year. “We’re going to Queensland to show our kids the Great Barrier Reef. We’re excited to be able to use points we earn from our business expenses for flights and hotels for the family.”

• The key to… building a loyal customer base

Jax says putting in the effort to build relationships with customers and paying attention to the details has helped grow a solid foundation of regulars. “Remembering faces, names, orders – those little interactions are integral to building our little community and an inviting atmosphere here at Malibu.”

Unlock the possibilities for your business. Earn 150,000 bonus Qantas Points + $450 Qantas Flight Voucher* with the American Express® Qantas Business Rewards Card. Minimum spend $3,000 in the first 2 months of your approval date. New American Express Card Members only. Offer ends 10 August 2022. T&Cs apply. Learn more.

Click here for Terms and Conditions.

SEE ALSO: ​​This Juicy Side Hustle Became a Multi-Million Dollar Business

*150,000 bonus Qantas Points and $450 Qantas Flight Voucher offer only available to new American Express Card Members who apply by 10 August 2022, are approved and spend $3,000 on their new Card in the first 2 months from the Card approval date. Card Members who currently hold or who have previously held any other Card product issued by American Express Australia Limited in the preceding 18 month period are ineligible for this offer. Please allow 8 to 12 weeks after you have met the spend criteria for the 150,000 bonus Qantas Points to be awarded to your Qantas Business Rewards account. A $450 Qantas Flight Voucher will be issued as a Qantas Gift Voucher. The Voucher will be sent to the email address associated with your Qantas Frequent Flyer profile 4 to 8 weeks after the bonus Qantas Points have been awarded provided you are a Qantas Frequent Flyer member and have provided your Qantas Frequent Flyer number at the time of application with American Express. Should your Qantas Frequent Flyer number not be provided at the time of application with American Express, you will be considered not eligible for a Qantas Gift Voucher. If a member does not have a valid email address in their Qantas Frequent Flyer profile at the time of application, Qantas is not obliged to resend the Qantas Gift Voucher. Qantas Gift Voucher is valid for 12 months from date of issue and can be used for any available Qantas Flight domestic and international bookings, departing Australia (one-way or return) and subject to terms and conditions. This advertised offer is not applicable or valid in conjunction with any other advertised or promotional offer. Subject to the American Express® Qantas Business Rewards Card Points Terms and Conditions. $450 annual fee applies.

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