24 April 2023

Five minutes with Wendy and Stephen Byrne of Barnes Store Emporium and Cafe

| Oliver Jacques
Start the conversation
Wendy and Stephen Byrne at their cafe

Wendy and Stephen Byrne recently celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary. Photo: Supplied.

If you’ve ever driven between the Riverina and Canberra or Sydney, you may have stopped at the Barnes Store Emporium and Cafe in Murrumburrah – a popular halfway brekkie or lunch spot. But did you know about the store’s remarkable 163-year history and unconventional smoked goodies? We found out more by catching up with owners Wendy and Stephen Byrne.

Who are Wendy and Stephen Byrne and what is the Barnes Store: We are a married couple of 40 years and have been running the Barnes Store Emporium and Cafe in Murrumburrah since 2012. The building was originally constructed by English businessman John Barnes in 1860, who operated a department store until he was shot and killed by John O’Meally, a member of Ben Hall’s notorious bushranger gang. It was the largest department store on the south-west slopes. They sold everything from gunpowder, ammunition, timber, steel, everything.

We bought the building in 2001 and originally used it as a holiday home until we moved here and set up the cafe.

Store in 1930

Barnes Store in 1930. Photo: Supplied.

What’s it like being married and working together: It works for us. We haven’t killed each other yet.

Best recent dining experience: The small plates at Bar Rochford in Canberra. They are just amazing.

Favourite cuisine: It would have to be modern Asian.

READ ALSO Homeless to head chef: Five minutes with smoked-meat king Erin Strickland

Most embarrassing pantry item: Microwave rice. Our son was horrified that we would eat it. But it’s quick and easy when you’ve been working all day.

What ingredient can you not live without? Our free-range eggs. We have several locals that supply us directly from their farms.

Best coffee spot in the Riverina: We don’t really go out to any others, so we’ll say us.

Next big thing in the Riverina food scene: Taking everyday ingredients and turning them on their head. That’s what we’ve been doing here. We smoke salt with local herbs and make a beautiful black garlic salt.

A must-try on our menu: Our Texas pulled-pork pie. It’s 24-hour slow-cooked. We only do three pies and have done so for the past 10 years. Our Thai chicken and a steak and mushroom pie have also proved very popular.

Thai chicken pie and salad

The Thai chicken pie is recommended. Photo: Supplied.

My biggest culinary influence: Wendy’s mum, Valerie James. She was an amazing cook and loved entertaining.

Favourite cookbook: Luke Nguyen’s Street Food Asia.

Who I admire on the Riverina food and wine scene: The people we think have been doing great things are Long Track Pantry in Jugiong. Great people doing fantastic stuff. The store makes handmade relishes, preserves, chutneys, jams and marmalades and the cafe is open for lunch and breakfast daily, 8 am to 4 pm (closed Tuesdays).

READ ALSO Five minutes with Luke Piccolo of Limone Dining in Griffith

Death-row meal: Definitely not two-minute noodles or microwave rice. I would order a 265-course meal to drag out our remaining life.

Our top-three cooking tips: 1. Use fresh ingredients. 2. Season everything well. 3. Use our smoked olive oil. It’s a garnish that goes well with fresh bread like sourdough. During COVID, Stephen went mad with the smoker and discovered all these new products.

The Barnes Store Emporium and Cafe is at 356 Albury St, Murrumburrah. It is open daily between 9 am and 3 pm, except Tuesday and Wednesday.

Start the conversation

Daily Digest

Want the best Riverina news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riverina stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.