The Illawarra's burgeoning food scene continues to spark innovation, such as these eight joints that combine community connections with new ambitions.
ANASTASIA'S BAKE SHOP
Anastasia Martini cooked up a plan to open her own cafe when she was a 16-year-old working casual shifts at Pizza Haven.
She became a chef and travelled the world, before finally realising her dream last month when she opened the doors to Anastasia's Bake Shop in Lake Illawarra.
"I found my diary from when I was younger and it said I was going to open a bakery in a little side street in a small town in Italy," she laughs. "Lake Illawarra will do for now."
She's decked out the place in pink subway tiles and palm leaf wallpaper - but her vision for the bakery runs deeper than a pretty interior.
You won't find any meat, eggs and nuts in her allergy safe and vegan-friendly kitchen, which dishes up cupcakes in unique flavours (think choc crackle or Tim Tams), as well as savoury dishes like "not-chicken" pies and curried samosas.
She's just as particular about the ingredients in her business practices. There's an Acknowledgement to Country plaque in support for Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders by the front door and the cafe is plastic-free.
Far from being just a niche provider, Anastasia's is proving that being socially responsible makes good business sense.
"There are so many children with allergies," she says.
"It breaks my heart hearing a child misses out on cake due to something out of their control.
"The pure joy of watching them eat a cupcake makes all the hard work worth it."
Fan favourite: The Rueben sandwich.
76 Addison Avenue, Lake Illawarra
CUPPALICIOUS ON GIPPS
You won't find standard bacon and eggs or porridge at the new Cuppalicious cafe in Gwynneville.
New owners Christian Brahe and wife Kate Kang have chosen to serve Korean-style breakfasts and street food, Japanese cakes and other oriental delicacies.
"We don't just want to be an ordinary coffee shop," he said.
By the way, this place has nailed the culinary trends - it looks anything but ordinary.
Fan favourite: The Korean toastie, a fresh take on an Aussie staple. - By Desiree Savage
Shop 4/174-182, Gipps Road, Gwynneville
THE ACORN CAFE
A new cafe in Bellambi that spends its proceeds on giving people a hand-up is off to such a cracking start, they've had no time to throw the launch party they had planned.
The Acorn - a not-for-profit project by Acorn Community Development - provides work experience and training to students, the long-term unemployed, people with mild disabilities and those returning to the workforce after raising children.
Acorn president Kylie Burnard, a teacher of the deaf, saw a gap in the market for safe and supportive work experience placements.
"Our belief is that everyone is of value and all have potential and purpose, given opportunity," she says.
Food, mostly catered by UOW cafe Gypsy Jones, is simple, tasty fare like brekkie rolls, Turkish bread sandwiches and wraps.
In a sign the community has embraced Acorn as its own, the locals have stopped referring to it by its name.
"We're told that we're now just called the 'Bellambi Cafe', just like across the road is the 'Bellambi pub'," Kylie says.
Fan favourites: Try the gluten-free seasonal fruit loaf.
Corner Bellambi Lane and Brompton Road, Bellambi
STACKS BURGER HOUSE
Former Sydneysiders Jason and Emma Young have been overwhelmed with the support they've received from locals since opening their burger house in Kiama.
Folks have come in droves to experience the food and atmosphere of the old Kiama Downs Bakery, which underwent a major overhaul to become the 100-seater, pastel green beach "shack" it is today.
"We just pinch ourselves with the support and the amount of just good, genuine people our locals are," Mr Young says.
The community isn't there for the high-stacked burgers alone. They're also showing up for the new owners as they battle a health crisis.
When they opened, Jason had just undergone brain surgery to remove a fast-growing tumour.
Six months on, he describes his recovery as "a journey" but remains positive and grateful for his wife's unwavering strength.
"Em is the star in our story, looking after me, being a great mum to our two babies and making Stacks the success it has been."
Fan favourites: Southern fried chicken burger, double beef bacon cheeseburger.
21 Johnson Street, Kiama Downs
HEMINGWAY BAR AND CAFE
The University of Wollongong likes to think of itself as a city within itself. If it were, Hemingway - located in the McKinnon building and run by the Vuleta family - will soon become this city's first small bar.
But for now, the cafe part of Hemingway is serving up a mix of Cuban, Mediterranean and "all-round delicious" food like the crowd-pleasing Cuban bowl, with its banana, pineapple and slow-cooked beef.
The name is a nod to the literary icon Ernest Hemingway, a bon vivant whose lifestyle provided inspiration for the new eatery.
"He enjoyed moving places, eating and drinking and we wanted to create an atmosphere and a menu that combined all of that," says Zoran Vuleta.
Fan favourites: Burgers, Cuban bowl.
UOW Wollongong campus, Building 67 (McKinnon), first floor
Moe's Burgers hadn't long set up shop in Corrimal when a sudden change to the lease meant they had to pack up and look elsewhere.
But now Maurizio Giraldi is right at home in new digs at the Charles Hotel in Fairy Meadow.
"After seeing the artwork completed and the new signage, it really started to feel like home and now we are so happy with how things have worked out for us," he said.
The burgerntrepreneur has grand plans for his new base. First up, a fresh menu featuring novel eats like pretzel-battered chicken wings with blue cheese sauce, maple BBQ pork ribs with a chipotle slaw and some self-saucing deep-fried cookies.
Live music is also on the menu, with local artists playing twice a month (Jack Rose will perform 1-4pm on Sunday).
Fan favourite: The Cheesy Moe - ask for it doubled or with special spiced maple bacon.
Charles Hotel, 98 Princes Highway, Fairy Meadow
HIS & HERS
Corrimal resident Martine Hadfield was driving past the old antique shop on the Princes Highway one day when she noticed the for-lease sign.
"We decided to put our expression of interest in - and we happened to be the lucky ones," she says.
Martine and daughter Bryton turned the space into His & Hers, a cafe that knows how to do mornings right - brekkie pizzas, burgers and granola cups, with freshly squeezed juices and Holy Goat coffee.
For lunch, there's nutritious and delicious meals like sticky mango chicken skewers and avocado quinoa bowls, as well as decadent house-made cakes and nutella donuts.
Fan favourite: The big family breakfast platter, which serves four.
313 Princes Highway, Corrimal
Toro Robata Sushi
The popular Toro Sushiya in Thirroul has branched out and opened a second eatery, this time on Corrimal Street in Wollongong
Chef Jin Kim will create artistic masterpieces of sushimi that looks too good to eat.
Since opening at the start of the year, Trip Advisor reviews have rated the Japanese restaurant as "excellent". - By Desiree Savage
9/129 Corrimal Street, Wollongong