Starting over: unique business models

Emily Caska

If my story ignites a fire in just one other person, if it gets them out of a bad situation, if it gives them hope, then it’s worth sharing.

Emily Caska.


It’s long been our view that single mums should be revered and celebrated in society. Particularly those who have overcome adversity.

Enter the inspiring Emily Caska.

In 2017, with her then 2-year-old son Otis in tow, Emily was forced to start a new life.

Fortunately, they landed in the beautiful Avoca and an opportunity presented.

With no hospitality or design background this entrepreneur created the chic Avoca Surf House overlooking Avoca beach.


Emily’s masterstroke was her vision to also create a ‘community centre’ which offers yoga, gardening classes, beach clean ups, art classes, kids movies, events for people with disabilities and sustainable business practices.

Her instinct to “genuinely focus on our local community” was spot on.

It is proving to be a true lighthouse; a place many locals feel right at home.

Martine Harte: Huge congratulations Emily. Can you share your proudest moment in the Avoca Surf House journey?


Emily Caska – Avoca Surf House founder:

Thank you! True to clichés – you have many proud moments from the end of fit-out, to opening our doors, to reaching one year, to reaching two years, to great reviews, to media articles.

For me, success is more so defined by the everyday moments:

The single person who walks in the door, asks for a table for one and feels so totally comfortable doing so. This is success.

The group of talented tradespeople who happen to have a disability who made our furniture coming in for lunch with their family to show off what they made with such pride.

Our staff joining us on their days off to show off the venue and have fun.

The person who came in feeling not so great and left feeling better.

The couple who chose to have their romantic night away from the kids with us.

The group who chose to all meet at our place from around the world to be together.

The staff who pounce into work full of energy keen to be in our family.

The local mum who we invited to run a workshop showing off her talents.

That’s the stuff that really gets to me, these are the moments that literally take my breath away.


What have been some of your greatest learnings business wise?


Emily Caska – Avoca Surf House founder:

This is the part I love to share the most. All too often people look at the social media highlights reel and get a false façade that it’s all sunshine and roses.

If you love it, do it. If you don’t love it and are after a quick buck, don’t do it. Connect with your why. Write it down, express it to yourself, your staff, your customers.

Keep at it. Failure is not an option. About 9 months ago I was done, exhausted and ready to throw the towel in. Then I read ‘The Messy Middle” and realised it’s ok to falter and have doubts.
We went to market, offers abounded. Then perhaps my competitive streak kicked in and I fell in love with her all over again.
Learning from other entrepreneurs and small business owners really helped get me back on track, as did surrounding myself with talented, passionate professionals who have the skills I don’t.
I’m a serious introvert so bringing extroverts in helped balance things – I’ll happily wash the dishes all day while they connect with our community.
I’m blessed with an incredible bookkeeper and accountant who care as much about our success as I do. In small business you often feel you have to do it all – whilst it costs money, I’ve learnt it’s far more efficient and profitable to consciously invest in the right skills leaving you to focus on your strengths.

Be realistic. We all have dreams but what you execute needs to be firmly embedded in reality.

We needed to reflect our small community by ensuring we were offering a multitude of reasons for them to utilise us – from food to drink to events to functions to take away to deli to our shop – the more opportunities to attract people the better.

You may have a particular vision in mind, as I did when it came to having an exotic and premium wine list for example, but if your demographic don’t want it or aren’t ready for it.

Take them on the journey respectfully and adapt your model to suit needs and wants.

Be authentic and genuine. Slick doesn’t work. Everything from your community partnerships to your social media presence needs to be firmly planted in your personal story.

People like to know your why, it makes what you’re creating real and connects you with an otherwise dormant audience.

As an introvert, I found this really difficult but have found that the more I share my personal story and come out of my shell, the more support we have and I’m so humbled by that.

We post a photo of our famous fish tacos, average engagement. I post a photo of my son and I sharing our story, engagement through the roof. People like real people.

From a very practical point of view: document everything, in writing. Even if you think at the time it’s not significant, write it in an email. If you have a conversation, follow up in email with an overview. This has proven to be critical to us in the face of adversity. Small, big, document it.

Whether setting out on your own or for someone else – set yourself personal pillars. These are your touchpoint, your true north. For me, they were to be both “joyful” and “secure”.

I’d been each before in life but always separately – earned the big bucks with little joy, found great joy without being financially secure (usually followed closely by regret or a hangover!). You need both and deserve both.

Everything I do now, I ask if it will make me feel joyful and secure. It’s a great compass.

Treat yourself. Small business is hard. Bloody hard, Find ways to reward yourself and celebrate even the smallest of wins.

This keeps you going. One of my favourite things to do is to go to a local restaurant, Bombini, with my son Otis for a nice meal and glass of wine. Bliss. It’s my recharge, my pat on the back, then back to business!


You left your former relationship due to family violence. A situation too many Australian women find ourselves in. Having survived this chapter, do you have any words of wisdom for women (or men) in a similar situation?


Emily Caska – Avoca Surf House founder:

Surviving, just, would be a more apt term!

Even though my ex-partner left when our child was a week old, the behaviours continue in many forms – which in and of itself was a learning for me.

Breaking up is not the end when you share a child (whether there be domestic violence or not).

My words of advice (I’m certainly not a source of wisdom!) are manyfold.

Do not try to apply logic to your situation or the person inflicting the violence. It defies logic. It defies decent human attributes. You will never find a reason to rationalise what they do. When you realise that, all of a sudden your mind stops wondering “why” and “what if” and “why me” and transfers responsibility to them – the place it firmly rests.

Closely related to the above – this is not your fault. Repeat. And repeat again.

Get support – at the very least, it will never hinder your growth or progress.This was definitely the hardest part for stubborn old me. For the first three years I was completely oblivious to my situation.

Friends, family, the police would tell me it wasn’t right. I was brilliant at putting on a happy face – if not for them, for myself too. I was independent, successful, gregarious, intelligent, educated. I wasn’t like the advertisements I saw.

Domestic violence does not happen to people like me – or so I thought and so my friends thought. I had no physical bruises or broken limbs, but my goodness looking back if you could have seen my soul and light – they were totally gone.I grew accustomed to being scared every single day, to walking on eggshells.

It was the new norm. I didn’t go out, some friends disappeared because my story wasn’t hip or cool, I retreated.  Then, one day I hit rock bottom. I looked at Otis and he needed me. What I didn’t realise is, I needed him more. He gave me the strength to look up support and it was the best thing I ever did.

For once, I was normal. I went along to a support group incredibly sheepish, thinking I would be kicked out within a minute. There, I found a group of women from all walks of life sharing the same journey as me. It was eye opening, soul lightening.

The better you do, the more they will hate. Keep aiming higher and being better – for you and for your child/ren. Stay soft. Don’t let this harden you. Your softness is a gift. Nurture and cherish it. You will be ok. In fact, you’ll be better than ok.

One of the most poignant pieces of advice a counsellor gave me early on was to see myself through Otis’ eyes. What was he seeing, who were you, what are you doing?I was a shadow of myself.

I was anxious, nervous, scared, in tears, overcompensating, hurting, trying and most of all, I was not being true to myself.Is that the example I want to set for my son about women in this world?

No way! I was his teacher in this life and that was not the lesson I wished him to learn. Women are strong, fun, passionate, energetic, amazing creatures. It was a real turning point for me.

I’m not perfect – it’s easy to dictate a list in an interview – much more difficult to practice in highly emotive situations day to day.


These insights you have just shared will provide solace to so many other women. Thank you.

What’s next for Avoca Surf House?


Emily Caska – Avoca Surf House founder:

We are looking at expanding our footprint and responding to overwhelming demand – think luxe beach goods, a gourmet deli, catering and homewares.

In terms of other things – we are soon to launch the Lulu and Otis Foundation, for legends who happen to have a disability and children affected by domestic violence.

High impact, high transparency, high meaning. I’m exceptionally excited about this!


Join us in wishing Emily all the best. Discover more about this unique business here.


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Martine Harte is founder of Engaging Women, a platform for social good.
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Posted in Career insights.