A fine blend: the Byrne family
In just over three years, the Byrnes have pumped out three cafés and three babies, and they’re still charging. Marianne Falconer stopped by for a coffee.
In a lot of ways, cafés are like kids. They both wake you up in the early hours of the morning, require copious amounts of food preparation, and don’t slow down just because it’s the weekend! Joel and Kate Byrne – café owners and parents of five – can testify to this. When their children were babies, Joel would have to leave home by 4am to bake and prepare cabinet food. “So you’re getting up at 3.30am, plus being woken two or three times in the night by a baby. I’d often go to work after three hours sleep” says Joel. And Kate would have to face the mornings on her own with the little ones – a double whammy when it comes to sleep deprivation.
The situation wasn’t ideal. “We thought, if we could get some balance back and appreciate time with the kids for a few years, then we would” recalls Kate. That opportunity presented itself when they had the chance to join forces with Nichola Jacobsen, a fine dining chef and serious baker. They have collaborated to create Eddies & Elspeth in Mount Maunganui – Eddies is the brunch parlour and Elspeth is the bakery. The partnership has meant that Joel no longer has to get up at 3.30am – Nichola has picked up that baton. While the hours are more civilised, the Byrne family pace of life still packs a punch.
The family business
Kate and Joel first met in 2011 – the good old-fashioned way, at a bar called Major Tom’s. They were married in 2013. Between them they’ve established four cafés in and around Tauranga: Café Eighty Eight, Me & You, Little Long and, most recently, Eddies. Joel has two teenaged daughters from previous relationships – Skylar, aged 19; and Charlise (or Char), aged 14. In the last five years, Kate and Joel have gone on to have three more children: Espen, aged five; Eli, aged three; and Isla, aged 19 months. Productivity levels have been high (in more ways than one!) in the Byrne family.
After previously working in the corporate world, Kate joined Joel around the time he and his family were opening Café Eighty Eight in Mount Maunganui and she has been in the hospitality industry ever since. “We figured out early on that we made a pretty great team and a few months quickly became years” recalls Kate. “I’ve fallen in love with the industry. I enjoy seeking out new trends and bringing inspiration from abroad.” And a beautiful job they’ve done too, with Eddies in particular. It is a highly photogenic café with a cosy vibe that draws you in and makes you want to linger, so naturally we started our interview and photoshoot onsite before moving to the Byrne family home nearby.
8 days a week
The hardest balance for a family in hospitality is that weekends are non-existent – Saturdays and Sundays being the busiest days for cafés. “The weekend is such a family time for everyone else, and so it can be quite lonely for me” admits Kate, who is at home with the kids most weekends while Joel is at work. “And finding time to spend time with Espen and Char, who are at school during the week, can be hard. We try to make up for it by having one-on-one time with them mid-week.”
The Byrnes are strategic about where they invest their time. As Kate put it, “We believe in putting aces in their places”. In other words, playing to their strengths – a common thread among successful people. “The ideal scenario is to get someone else to do the things we’re not good at! We’re hoping to put something in place so that I’m not on every weekend” says Joel. “And ultimately free up time to do more of what we love and spend more time together as a family” adds Kate.
As most working mothers can attest, splitting your attention between children and work can be a stretch. “I’ve found there is no secret to juggling everything … I wish there was! All we can do is try to be present in the space we are in.” Kate continues, “When I’m with our kids, I want to be with them, and when I’m working, I want to be working – my goal is to be fully present.” Isla has just joined Eli at daycare two days a week, which has helped alleviate the pressure on Kate. “When I’m at work I can speak with the staff now, I’m not trying to watch the kids at the same time” says Kate. “Your brain is like scrambled egg if you are trying to do everything”, offers Joel, as an endorsement for delegation.
Kate and Joel use the same intentionality to find special family time amidst the busyness. Kate shares one morning ritual they have created: “Each day I try to take the kids in to see Joel at the café before their morning drop-offs, so they are not waiting until late afternoon before they see him”. I met with Kate and Joel at the café during one such morning family ‘café date’ and it was obvious the kids love these visits too – taxing the marshmallow jar and enjoying fluffies on tap! For Joel, time is the most thoughtful gift Kate could give him. “It’s the highlight of my day! And the staff seem to love it too” affirms Joel.
As we sipped our morning brews, I observed the Byrne kids in action. I could see Espen is the independent one; super capable and likes to do things unaided. Eli is the cruiser, he seems happy just going with the flow. Isla sat at the head of the table drinking her fluffy and I got the impression she is going to be the boss of the family … if she isn’t already! Char – who isn’t quite at the coffee- drinking stage, but has moved on from fluffies to hot chocolates – is calm and super helpful. She was often holding one of the kids or helping them out with something.
Another example of how they prioritise family in their busy schedule is seen in their support of Char, encouraging her to pursue her passion. Up until recently, Char (a talented gymnast with a national title or two under her belt) was training five nights a week, for a total of 24 hours. “Whoever was free would pick me up – Mum, Dad or Kate” says Char.
Joel shares his modus operandi: “The motto I live by is you’ll never regret the time that you put into your kids, but you’re definitely going to regret the time you don’t spend with your kids”. By the way Kate nods her head in support, it’s apparent Joel really lives this out.
Bridging the gap
Joel first became a dad at age 20. Together Kate and Joel now embody the modern blended family. Adding to the challenge, they’re also currently straddling the teenage stage and the toddler world at the same time. “Pretty full-on” is how Joel describes it. “I’m 40 now and I’m in the thick of it again with three little ones. It’s quite a dynamic!”
So how have they made sure they’re building a blended family, rather than a split one? With such a big age gap, finding fun activities that suit everyone is tricky. “It would be easy to just do what suits the little kids, but then the older girls would be bored out of their brains. We try and balance what works for all the kids” explains Joel. Step in, Lake Rotoiti – the Byrne family’s happy place. “We all enjoy going to the lake” says Joel. “Everyone jumps in the boat – Char and Sky wakeboard, so do Kate and I, then the little kids have a go on the ski biscuit.”
As Mount locals, the beach is their backyard. They’re keen surfers, but they’re also a high-octane kind of family. Joel’s dad was into cars and when Joel was 11 he bought his first motorbike, having saved up for it by working hard in his parents’ café. Turns out, petrol runs in their veins and the kids are getting into motor-cross and BMX, too. “Every Byrne loves a bike ride” says Joel, as he describes the ways they go about spending time together.
All together now
For Kate, coming into a relationship where there were children involved meant big decisions right from the start. “If I wasn’t willing to be actively involved, then I believe there would have been a great divide in our family” shares Kate insightfully. Kate has honoured Joel’s older daughters by seeking meaningful connection with them, choosing love over fear and unity over division. Joel agrees: “The kids are going to feel it if you’re not 100% invested. Kate has been fully invested with my girls right from the start. It’s not easy – you’re not trying to take over the mum role, but you’re making sure that you keep connected. Char knows that if at any point she needs her, Kate’s there for her”. And Kate’s efforts have paid off. There’s clearly a real sense of unity in the way this team interact, with Char doting on Isla, Eli and Espen like a second mum.
Skylar has always lived with her mum and stepdad, and moved to New Plymouth when she was at intermediate school. The distance made maintaining relationship tricky, but Joel has always pushed for his relationship with Sky – a testimony, Kate affirms, to his character. And Sky has always pursued her relationship with her dad, which got easier as she become more independent. “We’re fortunate to have had holidays with Sky. She would catch the bus up here, until she got her licence and then she drove up to stay with us. This has been great, as travelling with young children isn’t always straightforward!” recalls Kate.
The circle of love
I observe a willingness from all parties to accept each other for the sake of the greater good. What could have defined their family as broken has been used to link them together. Joel’s depiction provides a beautiful visual: “Realistically, all that happens is that our circle gets bigger”.
Maintaining the circle is a crucial part of their family dynamic. In practice this means Joel avoiding the role of middleman, everyone listening to each other’s point of view, and keeping the lines of communication open. Rachel (Char’s mum) has always welcomed Kate as part of Char’s life and this has been key in their success as a blended family, Joel and Kate agree. It means that both sides of the family can be present at important events and there’s a togetherness that provides security for the kids.
“I’m not sure how many blended families can say it, but there’s no animosity between us – all you want at the end of the day is for everyone to get along” says Joel. The Byrne family are a fine blend, and like good coffee, they come together to create a stronger, more vibrant experience. Kate sums up their family life: “It’s not always perfect, but all things considered, we do a pretty darn good job. I have been totally blessed to be a part of this unique ‘little big’ family of ours”.
As a family they practise gratitude and have a habit of sharing their daily highlights to get conversation flowing. “Love is big in our family, we show each other affection every day. To know that you can pass that on to your kids, and they can then pass it on to their kids, is great” concludes Joel. Life is busy, but if your days are spent passing love on to the next generation, you can rest easy.
AS FEATURED IN ISSUE 46 OF OHbaby! MAGAZINE. CHECK OUT OTHER ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE BELOW