Debbie van Der Want had been coming to the Australian Bakery Cafe on Colony Park Drive since it opened in 2016. It was the closest place where the South African native could find cuisine that felt a little closer to her first home. She’d often take sausage rolls to her sons when they attended Forsyth Central High School, or indulge in her own favorite, steak and kidney pie.
Van Der Want developed so much of an affection for the cafe that she could sometimes be found behind the counter helping the staff on busy weekends.
But when the cafe closed seven months ago, van Der Want felt the loss.
“It was horrible when it went away, because then you realize, ‘Oh, I just want a (meat) pie today,’” van Der Want said.
Van Der Want helped remedy that. She recently helped reopen the restaurant on Nov. 30 with a new name — the Queen’s Colony Cafe — but with the same unique offering of Australian, South African and British groceries and menu.
Mark Allen helped open the first Australian Bakery Cafe location in Marietta in 2001, and it became a sensation. Expats from Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa frequented the restaurant to find cuisine more familiar to their upbringing, but it gained more widespread acclaim for its array of meat pies and traditional Australian food.
Allen said the restaurant has filled orders for several prominent Australians, like Mel Gibson and Keith Urban. It’s been featured on TV shows. Allen said the restaurant also provides food to the White House when it hosts dignitaries from Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa.
Allen eventually opened the location in Forsyth County in 2016 because more and more he met customers who made the trek from north Georgia to Marietta.
Like van Der Want. She moved from South Africa to New Jersey 25 years ago, then followed friends who were originally from England to Forsyth County in 2001.
“I’d go to Marietta to do all my shopping, and then they opened here,” van Der Want said, “and so we’d come here at least once a week.”
Allen said Australian Bakery Cumming ran into “staffing issues,” and so he decided to shut it down and decide its next move. He decided to restructure and look for a managing partner, and he thought of van Der Want.
“I love her energy. Just a good person; she’s friendly, outgoing and always had a dream about doing this,” Allen said. “It just worked out perfectly.”
Van Der Want had some hesitation but quickly saw it as an opportunity to meld her experience in the catering industry with her love of food.
“I was like, ‘You know what? I might as well just do it, come here and do a new thing,’” van Der Want said.
Allen and van Der Want collaborated on the new name and logo using a combination of colonial British references and van Der Want’s affection for the environment, particularly bees.
“Without bees, life doesn’t happen,” van Der Want said.
Van Der Want admitted there’s been some transition for her in this new role, but not too much. She’s used to cooking big helpings, both as a caterer and for her three sons, and she’s familiar with the cafe’s menu, of course.
Indeed, on a recent Friday, van Der Want was navigating lunch hour and taking in the orders and praise from customers.
“Brilliant,” said one customer who is originally from England. “Best (meat) pies. Glad it’s open.”
Another, Kelley Van Rooyen, 23, walked in. Like van der Want, Rooyen was born in South Africa. He moved to Forsyth County when he was 13, eventually graduating from South Forsyth High School and the University of North Georgia.
His mom had told him that the Australian Bakery Cafe had reopened as something new, and so he jumped at the chance to order his favorite treat from his first home: a steak and kidney meat pie.
“That’s what’s going to keep me coming back here,” Van Rooyen said. “It reminds me of home a lot.”
Queen's Colony Cafe
Where: 101 Colony Park Dr.
Hours: Open Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.