When Lisa Wisken decided to open Highlands Merchant cafe in Moss Vale, people questioned her decision. ‘The common refrain was, “But there’s no one there, why would you not open in Bowral?”’ says Lisa, who moved to the Highlands from Queensland in 2013 with husband Alex, a FIFO helicopter pilot, and son Fraser, now eight. But after a career in sales, marketing and events, Lisa was ready to follow her dream. ‘Once Fraser was old enough to go to day care a few days a week, I wanted to pursue a casual job working in a cafe where I could interact with the general public and have a small impact on people’s day to day lives. No more desk jobs! I started working at a Flour, Water, Salt in Bowral and fell in love with the buzz you get from super busy days and the friendships you build with customers along the way.’ Today, Highlands Merchant lives by the ethos ‘Locally sourced. Freshly made. Kindly served’ and is a proud supporter of local farmers such as Apple Cart Produce and Taluca Park Farms. ‘Using small and local may cost a little more but I wouldn’t have it any other way. We are supporting local families that work bloody hard and I love that these guys have become our mates along the way.’ And 18 months after opening, Lisa feels her decision to go into the cafe business has been vindicated. ‘I know a lot of people believed at the time I was overcapitalising and making a mistake, but that theory was very shortsighted. There are many, many folk who appreciate good food and coffee outside of Bowral. A million times over I had to remind myself ‘build it and they will come’. And they did.’
My name is LISA WISKEN
I live in… Moss Vale.
I opened Highlands Merchant in… June 2016.
I moved from… North Queensland
I chose Moss Vale because… I believed there was room for another great cafe.
My three favourite things in the Highlands are… Grand Bistro in Bowral for meals on my days off; getting to work with my mates every day; the changing seasons (in Queensland it’s just hot and hot).
Followers on Instagram see… Photos of our delicious food created by chef Ken Baker. Feel good words and images from Pinterest. I love a daily dose of digital high fiving.
When it comes to the food, you could describe the Highlands Merchant’s style as… Clean, fresh, contemporary, ever changing.
I most often get asked… Who my builder and interior designer were (Andrew and Brielle Economos).
People who eat at Highlands Merchant come from… We have our everyday regulars plus travelling customers from far and wide who will often introduce themselves and say they’ve been following us on social media since day one. Always blows my mind!
Your clientele is attracted by… We walk the talk. Handcrafted, locally sourced, kindly served.
I always tell people visiting the Southern Highlands for the first time to… Head to Burrawang Hotel for a beer at sunset.
You shouldn’t leave the Highlands without… Spending a day in Moss Vale for the best collection of shops, bars and dining in the Highlands.
The biggest lessons I have learnt running my own business… Be flexible, treat your staff well, listen to feedback and trust that everything will work out. It always does!
The one thing I would advise anyone thinking about doing the same… Dream big, stay focused and surround yourself with good people.
What other dreams are still on your bucket list? Highlands Merchant has been my biggest tick but as for the future, honestly, I’m not sure. I flip between opening a bar/boutique/second cafe weekly. I sense something else big is in my sights but I just don’t know what yet. I’ll stay open to any opportunities and trust that I’ll make the right decision when the time comes.