THEY OPENED IT WITH THE BYRON BAY LOCALS IN MIND, BUT THERE WAS NO KEEPING THE TOURISTS AWAY FROM LIGHT YEARS.
Walking into Light Years bar and restaurant in Byron Bay is like being transported down south into a cool laneway eatery in Melbourne. Tucked away at the back of an arcade on Lawson Street – the beachside town’s main drag – you would miss if you did not know it was there. But that is part of the attraction: the retro-style Asian diner was created to serve good food primarily to locals.
“We wanted to deliver a product to the Byron Bay community that was fun, inviting and inclusive,” says Light Years owner Kim Stephen. “This is a tourist-heavy town but we didn’t feel there were many great places solely focused on the locals that maintained a little bit of an edge, whilst making sure the prices didn’t creep up too high. We want our customers to come and have a casual drink and bite to eat with us a couple of times of week without it feeling like they are breaking the bank.”
Stephen, who is from Melbourne, opened Light Years last December after noticing a gap in the Byron Bay market. The restaurant, with chef Robbie Oijvall at the helm (ex-China Diner in Bondi), offers Asianinspired street food and cocktails in a pink-walled patio with loads of hanging baskets (very 1950s Hanoi) and a “killer soundtrack”. When WISH visits midweek, on a rainy and cold evening in September, it is still packed and even has a queue out the front. Delicious dishes include pork belly with sticky chilli caramel, cuminspiced fried cauliflower, Kingfish ceviche with coconut, chilli and kaffir lime and Light Years fried chicken.
It was the first permanent venture for Stephen, whose brother, Ry Stephen, is a chocolatier and the master baker behind Supermoon Bakehouse in New York. “His ideas were eccentric but they worked and they blew me away,” Kim says. He followed his brother into the kitchen and opened a pop-up café in Melbourne with a friend, but soon realised he would rather be in the operational side of things.
“I wanted to create incredible places, develop new and exciting concepts and deliver amazing food with the help of great executive chefs like Robbie,” he says. Stephen admits the opening night of Light Years was “absolutely nerve-racking”, but he need not have worried. Word spread, and it quickly became a place for tourists to seek out as well as locals.
After a successful year at Byron, Stephen and his partners will open a Light Years in Noosa and one in Victoria’s Sorrento by Christmas. “Our goal is to do restaurants in coastal towns around Australia.”
Stephen will continue to be based in Byron Bay, although he will be on the road a lot more managing the three venues. “You are surrounded by the most amazing coastline, beautiful mountains and forest, and there is a great little supportive community to tie it all together,” he says of Byron Bay. “To be able to make a living with all of this on your doorstep is really a dream come true.”