Heartbreaking blow for Aussie café forced to turn away customers

Debi Tidman who runs a popular café in Broome, said it's 'really hard' not being able to pay staff who have 'expensive' rent to pay.

After battling through the Covid pandemic and more recently the cost-of-living crisis, things were finally starting to pick up for Debi Tidman who runs a popular café in Western Australia.

It's currently dry season in the Kimberley region meaning sunny blue skies and less humidity, and it's the busiest time of year for Little Local café in Broome, often bustling with backpackers and locals before the wet season approaches.

But last Sunday, a kitchen fire forced close the venue's doors meaning an instant loss of income for Debi and owner Taya. "Loyal staff", mostly backpackers themselves, are also without an income to pay for "expensive" rent. "It's been extremely hard," Debi told Yahoo News Australia.

"The smoke damage to the whole inside café is pretty bad. We can't use the kitchen," she added. And it'll likely be weeks before they can operate as normal again.

Two women standing outseide Little Local Cafe Broome.
Little Local Cafe in Broome is run by Debi Tidman (left) and alongside owner Taja (right). Source: Supplied

Café desperate to keep 'money coming in'

Since Tuesday, the business has been selling takeaway coffee and sweets treats and has had "some money coming in" because the coffee cart is outside in the garden and untouched by the fire. On an average day, the business will turn over about $3,500 with breakfast and lunch contributing to the bulk of their sales, but this week they're barely hitting $1000.

"People from the local community that run their own food businesses have actually been helping us out with food so we have some money coming through the doors," Debi explained. On Thursday they had sushi. Without a kitchen to cook food, they also can't serve alcohol which is a "big part of profit" in the evenings.

Little Local Cafe Broome coffee cart.
The business has been able to sell coffee only as the cart was untouched by the fire. Source: Supplied.
Outdoor courtyard at Little Local Cafe Broome.
It's the businest time of year for Little Local Cafe, but they're unable to operate as normal. Source: Supplied

The café is Debi's only source of income and is a "massive help in the climate that we're in", particularly since her husband is on a reduced wage because he studies alongside work. "I think I'm still probably in a more fortunate position than some of our staff. Broome's a very expensive place to live," she explained.

'Passionate' staff suddenly left without work

Insurance will only cover structural damage and the loss of any equipment in the fire, but Debi fears, without an income, they'll be unable to pay staff or bills. The mum has started a GoFundMe page with hopes of raising $10,000 which will help to pay for and maintain the "strong team of very dedicated and passionate people" they've "finally" managed to hire.

Little Local Cafe Broome burnt kitchen and firefighter putting out fire.
The fire destroyed the kitchen which can not be used. Source: Supplied

"They have been donating a lot of their time, but we obviously don't want to take advantage of that," Debi told Yahoo."The idea of staff having to go elsewhere and get work [is very difficult]."

Debi and Taja hope to have the kitchen up and running for the annual Shinju Matzori in two weeks which celebrates the heritage and history of Broome. She said it's "a really good profit for us" and is the "last big possibility to make money" before the wet season when business starts to "dwindle".

But she isn't hopeful as the damage to the kitchen is "quite bad". "There is still a huge amount of work to be done to get the kitchen back up and running," she said.

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