Adventures Abroad, Fine Food, Flowers and more

In the second part of our ‘Full Circle’ series, Coastbeat caught up with Coffs Harbour local – turned international marketing guru – turned local café owner and florist, Kristi Mulhall.      

 She’s tested beer in Prague, sipped on the finest wines from the vineyards of France and watched a world-champion Spanish jamon slicer work his magic. This was all in a day’s work for Kristi Mulhall.

The Coffs Harbour local spent five years living abroad, basing herself in the UK but spending much of her time travelling around Europe – all in the name of work.

Sounds like a dream, right? For Kristi, it was. After growing up in Coffs, the ambitious teen was chomping at the bit to explore what the world had to offer. “I couldn’t wait to see what was out there. I used to sit on the beach and imagine what was on the other size of that horizon,” she says.

“I hadn’t travelled anywhere by the time I was 17. I’d never been overseas, I’d never been away so I was beyond excited to explore.”

Following high school, Kristi moved to Newcastle for university before heading to Sydney to begin her career. Five years later, with her sister already set up in London, she made the move overseas. It was in the UK that her career really took off.

Kristi’s first job was with a large off-licence wine brand which had her developing entire wine ranges and subsequent brands. “I developed new labels, ranges, brands and packaging which often involved frequent trips to German beer breweries and French vineyards – it was such a great job,” she says.

Following this, Kristi worked for well-known UK supermarket chain, Sainsbury’s, working alongside the one and only, Jamie Oliver. “I worked with their healthy food range, writing programs for Jamie and doing trend analysis on the market.”

Kristi Mulhall Pansabella

After five years living and travelling abroad, Kristi returned home to continue her phenomenal career back in Sydney. As the brand manager for Jacob’s Creek, Kristi found herself rubbing shoulders with the best in the fine food business, not to mention some of the world’s most famous tennis stars. How? She managed the company’s sponsorship of the Australian Open – four years running.

“I often worked with Pat Rafter and Wally Masur. I remember clearly, it was my fourth tournament and I was down underneath Rod Laver Arena with Pat Rafter on the way to a press conference. Pat Cash decided to stop and have a chat and then Serena Williams walked past. It was just surreal,” Kristi says.

“I have always loved tennis – and wine – and I remember thinking, this job just ticks every box. However, I also remember the moment being a bit of a reality check. I probably had the best job you could ever have in marketing, but I wasn’t feeling fulfilled. I wasn’t happy.”

Despite these amazing roles, diverse experiences and seemingly, having everything she’d ever dreamt of, Kristi realised it wasn’t enough. The only place she felt she could truly be happy was several hours north, in her hometown of Coffs Harbour.

From that 17-year-old busting to get out of there, Kristi had well and truly made her mark in the big, wide world, before coming full circle to start a new chapter of her life, at home.

“I sat down and decided to have a little think about what I really wanted to do. I wrote down all the things I love most in the world and discovered that most of my answers centred around fine food!”

Kristi adds, “I thought I would open up a restaurant and then I said to my mum, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to go without all the beautiful cheese, fresh bread, fresh flowers and wonderful coffee that I’m used to getting in Sydney’. I then had this ‘aha’ moment and realised there wasn’t anything offering that in Coffs Harbour.”

From this lightbulb moment, Kristi started Pansabella – originating from a nickname her grandfather had for her mother, ‘Pansy’, and ‘bella’ – meaning beauty, a link to Kristi’s experiences in Italy.

Deli food on a chopping board pansabella

“I wouldn’t have Pansabella without the family. Mum comes in regularly to help, my pop delivers the flowers and my husband sets up the furniture every morning – it’s wonderful,” she says.

Eight years on, Pansabella has transformed from a small shop with a gourmet deli range, fresh flowers and takeaway food and coffee to a thriving café, staffed with an entire team who keep the wheels turning. “My head chef, manager and florist are all so talented at their jobs, as are the rest of my team. I feel so lucky to have such great people to work with,” says Kristi.

While her life and focus is now all in Coffs Harbour, Kristi has managed to find a way of bringing her experiences from abroad back home. “What I experienced overseas has shaped what I’m doing now in every possible way. Everything I learnt about fine food, cheese, cured meats – that education has been invaluable,” she says.

“I think sometimes you have to travel the world to realise how amazing Coffs Harbour is. It’s not until you’ve been to all those places that you can come back and think, oh my goodness, wow.”

While Kristi never expected to return to the coast, she says it has been her best decision yet. Family drew her back here and now she and her husband have two young children of their own.

“It was passion and love for my family that brought me back but if you end up doing something you really love and that you’re passionate about, like I am, there’s just nothing better.”

Pansabella is located at Coffs Central Shopping Centre.

 For more information, find them on Facebook – Pansabella Food and Flowers