Former NYC restauranteurs’ message to Sydney: stop tailgating, just be you

Matty Bennett (left) and his husband Rupert Noffs (right) have transplanted their famed NYC restaurant, The Lucky Bee, to the Central Coast. Photo: supplied.

Husbands Rupert Noffs and Matty Bennett have left no dream unlived: from working as DJs and entertainers on cruise ships; to Sydney’s hottest Asian restaurant, Longrain; to co-founding a shoe label; and, ultimately, opening The Lucky Bee in New York City. But even after making the cover of The New York Times on opening week of their wildly successful, celebrity-packed restaurant, they’ve come to realise there’s no place like home. Amanda Smith speaks with one half of the power couple.

They met somewhere between England and Amsterdam, working on a P&O cruise, aged just 19. Instantly best friends, Rupert asked Matty to come back to live with him in Australia. It’s this ‘hell yes’ philosophy that has ensured the pair’s success. Matty’s home-cooked curry wowed Rupert and that’s when he knew: we have to open a restaurant. Someday. 

Matty dedicated the next 20 years to Sydney’s famous Asian restaurant, Longrain, while Rupert worked at the Ted Noffs Foundation (for his “rebel Methodist Minister and renowned humanitarian grandfather”) helping disadvantaged youth and co-founding a shoe label, GIDEON. All the while, South-East Asia occupied their daydreams and they enjoyed many visits there. 

But with fashion and food at the forefront of their lives, they moved to New York City. “I ended up working as Kelly Cutrone’s assistant,” Rupert says. “She helped me hone my PR and business brain, and most importantly, [helped me decide] not to take shit from anyone and always believe in yourself. We finally went out on our own – New York makes you do that.” 

Joanna Lin from Ready Set Jo interviews Rupert Noffs at The Lucky Bee, New York City in 2016. Video: Joanna Lin/YouTube.

The Lucky Bee was the culmination of the pair’s careers: food, style and aesthetics; events and performing. The Aussie husbands did what many dream of: run a successful restaurant in New York City. But no amount of press, celebrities or even The Village Voice naming Rupert and Matty the ‘Best Restaurant Couple’ of 2016, could dull their yearning for the Aussie lifestyle. 

“Let’s stop trying to be something we aren’t. We don’t need to be New York. We’re Sydney!” 

– Rupert Noffs

“We wanted the beaches and to be close to family. New York is non-stop and the Central Coast is just stop. Our time in New York was like ‘How to Run a Business 101′. I feel like I can handle every situation. New York has always had a great marketing campaign. It looks like the best place on earth, but it’s broken in so many ways.”

Rupert reveals how difficult it was to run a small business there, with monthly rent equivalent to what many would expect to pay for a year in Sydney. Here, you can actually make money and live well. 

“We’re so lucky. I wish Australians would realise how good we have it and stop tailgating the US. Sydney is the most beautiful city in the world. Let’s stop trying to be something we aren’t. We don’t need to be New York. We’re Sydney!

“The coolest people are the most kind, the friendliest. There are restaurants like Sean’s Panaroma in Bondi Beach, our favourite spot. It’s so laid back, the food is beyond delicious and it’s right on the beach. Be nice and serve good food – I‘ve learned it’s the recipe of a successful restaurant.” 

Rupert and Matty traded in the iconic streets of Manhattan for the simple life. Getting coffee at their local beach kiosk, walking in the national park and taking a dip in the ocean – which they have a front row view of, from their living room. No parking permit needed, no millionaire friends with pools, no elitist vibes, which Rupert recalls from visits to the Hamptons. 

“I think the key is to go over, work your arse off, then come home and create something amazing here.”

– Rupert Noffs

The Central Coast was crying out for a fresh, spicy restaurant like The Lucky Bee. Just like New York, the Australian iteration of The Lucky Bee was packed from day one. But Kelly Cutrone’s ‘don’t let anyone mess with you’ voice came in handy when the pair faced homophobic encounters and Australia’s infamous tall poppy syndrome. 

“We just kept doing what we do best.” And that’s dishing up healthy, fresh, locally sourced, modern Asian food … a fusion of cultures, with an enviable waterfront view. 

A delicious meal being prepared at The Lucky Bee Hardys Bay. Photo: supplied.

While Rupert loves being back home, he does miss a few things about NYC: “I miss being around people of the global majority – African Americans, Indigenous people and the Spanish immigrants – who are the backbone of the hospitality, music and design industries. The Central Coast is very white. Sydney is very white. Australian TV is very white.” 

Leaving Australia to live in another culture is a rite of passage, he says: “I think the key is to go over, work your arse off, then come home and create something amazing here. It’s hard to deny how lucky we are after living elsewhere. I have friends who head companies here now, purely because of the experience they gained working in London. You can basically name your salary. Anyone in their twenties should do this. Experience is power.” 

Returnees have the advantage of seeing home with new eyes. With a sense of responsibility to make life better and to create their own opportunities, as places like New York taught us to do. 

“As our old mate Peter Allen once wrote: No matter how far I roam, I still call Australia home.” 

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The Lucky Bee is currently closed due to lockdown and waiting for the vaccine to become available for all staff, for the safety of the community. Rupert and Matt plan to open a takeaway and delivery service for South-East Asian, pre-cooked meals. An announcement will be made on The Lucky Bee website and social media accounts. 

Amanda Smith is an Australian-born author, copywriter, cultural commentator and journalist based in New York City. Her website is located at www.amandasmithwriter.com.au.