Updated: Sep 23, 2020
336 Burwood Road, Hawthorn
After a lifetime living in Hawthorn and working in the hospitality industry, opening up Nevermind Bar on Burwood Road seemed like a no-brainer for Cam Jackson.
While the 46-year-old moved to Mont Albert around seven years ago now, Cam grew up in Hawthorn East off Riversdale Road. He attended Trinity Grammar School in Kew and started a commerce degree at Monash University, before deciding it wasn’t for him.
Cam was 18 when he started working in hospitality as a dishwasher and quickly worked his way up until he underwent a management traineeship at Sheraton Hotels and Resorts. He worked at the former Sheraton Towers for about six years and managed restaurants and bars, including one which is now the Auburn Hotel. Cam was living in Hawthorn with his friend and co-worker Richard when they had the idea to start their own bar together. “In hospitality, you can only get so far before you open your own business,” said Cam. “I know the area, and I knew there was a demand for it”. In October 1998, they bought the former French restaurant on Burwood Road, called it Nevermind Bar, and the rest is history.
The name itself was not inspired by the infamous Nirvana album, as many assume. It actually came from a conversation with staff at the brewery when Cam and Richard were selecting beers, when the lady mentioned a ‘Nevermind Bar’ in Canada with the exact same vibe they were going for. But for the first couple of years, ‘Nevermind Bar’ was on paper only. “We didn’t like the name at first,” confessed Cam. The only signage they had was a large typeface ‘N’ decal on the window, and for a while it was known simply as ‘The N Bar’. As time went on, they began marketing themselves as ‘Nevermind Bar’, a name which has been lovingly nicknamed ‘Nevs’ by locals.
The business has evolved over the last two decades, but it has remained a staple watering hole for the local youth for a variety of reasons. “I think I still act like I’m in my twenties - my mother and wife would say the same thing,” joked Cam. But really, for him it is all about maintaining a relaxed atmosphere and always keeping it fun, because “there’s enough seriousness in the world”. The kitchen has served a range of comfort cuisines over the years from burgers to pizzas to parmas, and they have recently rebranded with new signage and fresh decor to “bring it up to a contemporary look”. While they don’t attempt the impossible and try to cater to everyone, Cam feels proud to know that on an average Thursday night the bar is packed to the rafters with people who truly love to be there. As well as establishing years-long relationships with beloved regulars, Cam feels the bar has become almost like a rite of passage for the local kids’ first night out when they turn 18.
While fellow founder Richard left the business about six years ago now, Cam runs the business with three other partners and takes a lot of lead from his young managers about new ideas for the bar. “But the fundamentals of hospitality haven’t changed,” said Cam. “You want to go somewhere that reflects you. That boils down to the food, the music… it’s all in the delivery and the vibe.” That is why two years ago now, Cam started Luton Lane Wine Bar in the lane behind Nevermind Bar, as somewhere to cater to his current crowd.
Cam is still very hands-on at Nevermind Bar, working behind the scenes alongside about 20 bar staff as well as kitchen staff, DJs, and security. “It’s just so much fun, meeting people, hanging out,” he said. The staff are a very close-knit crew. Many of the staff bring in their friends and siblings to work the bar, and they have even seen generations of staff come through as former staff get their kids a job there. “It’s a real little community,” said Cam. The bar is actually where Cam met his wife Esther, a former Nevermind Bar staff member. They married 12 years ago now, and have four young kids together.
Cam feels very connected to the local community and is friend and patron of many of the local traders. Glenferrie Gourmet Meats supplies all the meat for the kitchen at Nevermind Bar. Since “Glenferrie staple” Mario’s closed down, Cam visits Axil Coffee on Burwood Road twice a day where “the coffee is really good”. When it comes to lunch, “Roll a Day is the best place to go for a crispy pork roll”, he said, as well as The Continental Deli for sandwiches.
Cam hopes the fallout from the pandemic might reduce rents and reinvigorate the area, attracting younger creatives to “take the plunge” and start up in Glenferrie Road, which he worries has been lost to “cookie cutter” chains, “$5 hospo”, and businesses “chasing the same market”. Nevermind Bar closed completely when the shutdown happened and just recently opened their doors with strict capacity restrictions and bookings. “It feels like opening a whole new business,” he said. “It’s presented it’s challenges, but we’re still trying to make it fun and maintain our identity.” They have used the quiet period to repaint the interior, replace the decor, and give it a good deep clean. “We’ve been fortunate enough to push on through,” said Cam.
He has felt a little less fortunate to have been homeschooling the kids. “It’s like running Nevs on a Thursday night minus the security. They want to kiss, they want to fight, they want to run around, they’re always hungry… It’s been a lovely family time,” he joked. “But I’m happy to get back.”