Bianca Wendt: With two regional venues under her belt, she talks about beach life and finding work life balance

Story by Cara Devine. Cara is our Melbourne-based drinks writer. She is the manager of Bomba in Melbourne and the face and talent behind the cocktailing YouTube channel Behind the Bar. You can email her at

While many city dwellers may dream of moving to an idyllic coastal town, very few have the gumption to actually make it happen. For career hospitality workers, there may be a fear that finding fulfilling employment could be difficult; Bianca Wendt (along with her husband Ric Divola) had a solution when wanting to move back to their childhood stomping ground on the Coffs Coast — open their own place.

Wendt worked at iconic Sydney venue The Oxford Art Factory back when it opened, before taking a break from hospo. A move to Melbourne drew her back in. “Dining out was literally a hobby for my partner Ric and me, and it didn’t take long before we realised we wanted to be on the other side of the bar. We finally decided to dive in and see where it would take us. I was lucky enough to score a job at Heartbreaker which led me to the role of Venue Manager at The Everleigh, definitely a career highlight.” I was actually on the opening team of Heartbreaker with Wendt, and her warm enthusiasm and friendly demeanour made it unsurprising that she quickly moved through the ranks of the Made in the Shade group.

So what took her to regional New South Wales? “A move was already on the cards, but Covid sped up the timeline. We grew up on the Coffs Coast so it made sense to go back home. A friend was looking to sell a cafe he had closed in Sawtell, just south of Coffs Harbour. The space was kitted out, so we suggested a ‘pop-up’ to fill in time. Lucky for us, the pop-up was a success, and we were able to buy the business from our friend.” And so Bar Que Sera was born, a “relaxed bar and restaurant”. The location has shaped the style of service and offering,

Wendt explains. “Sawtell is a small, laid-back coastal town that has an influx of city folk in holiday times. We tend to switch gears depending on the time of year. We’ll dial up the offering in peak times, which suits visitors, and in quieter times, we push weekly specials and one-off events to attract locals…your dining options are limited in regional areas, so hosting events that offer something different or new always draws a crowd and keeps things interesting.” It has relaxed wine bar vibes with seasonal menus, an impressive wine selection and the kind of well-executed cocktails you’d expect from Wendt and partner Divola, who also brings a wealth of hospitality experience to the mix (Eau de Vie, Dinner by Heston and ex Head Bartender at Cutler & Co).

Off the back of the success of their first venture, the pair decided to open a second spot. “Morty’s Joint is right next door to Que Sera, they literally share a wall. A lot of the same DNA flows between the venues but the aim for Morty’s was to attract a crowd that Que Sera wouldn’t be able to crack. We serve fried chicken and burgers, the menu is short and sharp because the kitchen is tiny! There’s a spotlight on independent craft beer. We pour Philter, Garage Project, Mountain Culture and White Bay on tap and have around 15-20 tins in the fridge, which is a huge selection for a town of 3,000 people. We have a pool table which we made free to encourage people to come in and hang out. It’s a local spot. Lots of people just rock up knowing they’ll see someone they know there, which is really cool to see.” While there are challenges to operating in a regional area – Wendt points out that, on average, they pay more for goods across the board, plus freight on top, but can’t price items as if they were in the city – this sense of community is extremely important to her.

“Morty’s Joint is right next door to Que Sera, they literally share a wall. A lot of the same DNA flows between the venues but the aim for Morty’s was to attract a crowd that Que Sera wouldn’t be able to crack.”

For others looking at taking the leap into bar ownership, Wendt has some sage advice: “Look after yourself! And when people offer to help, say yes.” Working on things gradually can help as well. “Opening a new venue right next door to Que Sera was an unexpected opportunity for us and, admittedly, a little beyond our reach. We knew the only way we could do it was to start with bare bones, focus on service and product and tackle the rest in small bites as we were able to. Morty’s has been open for a year now and it’s likely still a year away from being ‘finished’, but it’s been fun watching our vision slowly come to life.”

It’s clear that the husband and wife working dynamic provides great support as well. “It sounds dorky but I would be lying if I didn’t say Ric is someone who I look up to and inspires me. His creativity, knowledge and personal drive to do better is next level.” Together, they are a dream team, with Divola focussing on the kitchen and Wendt bringing her sunny disposition to elevate the front-of-house experience.

The lifestyle is a major draw when looking at moving away from the major cities. “Days off I’m heading straight for the beach or river, one of the perks of living on the coast,” says Wendt, “nothing beats an ice-cold beer by the water!” A day at the beach and then dinner at one of Wendt’s venues? Time for a road trip, I think.

Bar Que Sera Sawtell – 61 First Ave, Sawtell NSW

Morty’s Joint – 63 First Ave, Sawtell NSW