Cafes continue to pop up along the streets and alleys of the Illawarra, fired by a romantic notion that opening your own joint is a way out of the rat race. But the reality is a lot tougher.
When Emma Huber announced last year that she was closing the doors on Sandygoodwich, hundreds of people expressed shock, disappointment - and an urgent desire to savour one last Rueben.
The massive outpouring of love for the gourmet sandwich shop - known for its generous, top-notch, genuinely free-range fillings - showed how much it would be missed.
But as Huber points out, popular doesn't necessarily mean profitable.
If you're making a killing, someone must be losing out.
When they opened in 2012, Huber and husband Yon Miller had more than 40 years' combined hospitality experience under their belts. It should have worked.
But while the pair found their Crown Street venture creatively rewarding, and they quickly established a loyal following, they were also faced with challenges that ran as long as their menu.
High staff turnover, long hours, mounting costs, tight margins and fickle customers ever ready to make their hot take heard on Urban Spoon - these were just the tip of the iceberg.
"We were never able to make it easy," Huber said.
"We weren't prepared for how challenging it was to run a profitable business legally - paying the correct wages and super, and using truly free-range produce.
"You're supposed to pay yourself a wage, but that's on weeks when your oven doesn't break, or you don't get the shock of an electricity bill, or the fridge goes down and you lose all your stock.
"If you're making a killing, someone must be losing out."
To boost profits, Huber made everything she could on-site and began offering cooking classes, chef dinners and catering.
"It wasn't because we wanted to take over the world," she said. "It was to create an added income stream."
It all added up to a gruelling week and the long hours took a toll on the parents of two.
"If I got away with a 70-hour working week, it was a good week," Huber said. "We were putting in 80-90 hours at times.
"I had no choice but to return to work five days after giving birth. I was exhausted.
"There was so much guilt - I look back at how much we didn't get to do with the kids, all the times we had to say no to things due to lack of finances. And there were no holidays."
Like Huber and Miller, it was for family reasons that Aaron Anderson pulled the plug on his busy Balgownie cafe Bill and James five months ago.
"I wanted to spend more time with my two young boys," said Anderson, who was slogging away for up to 80 hours a week.
"They've never known what it was like to have Dad at home on the weekend."
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His sons, the eponymous Bill and James, now get Dad cheering them on from the sidelines at sports games.
Leaving the industry was no small move for the trained chef, who had worked in hospitality his whole life and had been self-employed for 14 years before selling up. But he hasn't looked back.
"It's an incredibly taxing industry," Anderson said.
"I thoroughly enjoyed it - it's my passion. But I make no bones about it, it's getting harder.
"You don't have to be qualified to own a cafe. It's seen as trendy and cool and I don't think enough kudos is given to people trained as chefs.
"Aside from competition, year-on-year rising fixed costs - gas, electricity - also made it harder.
"This coupled with wages, increasing food costs and the cost of compliance certainly shrinks the bottom line.
"To do things properly and not cut corners with your final product meant higher prices, smaller margins."
The process of selling his business - from the time he decided the fate of the cafe to handing over the keys and starting a new job as Partnership Manager at the Illawarra Hawks - took 18 months.
He involved his staff in the handover and threw a celebration with customers in their final days of trading.
When the end eventually came, he was ready and raring to start his new life.
What Maree Gilmour, a 34-year veteran of the hospitality industry and former owner of Gloria Jeans in Crown Street Mall, would have given for such a dignified and well-timed ending.
Instead, she was forced to make the heartbreaking decision to abruptly shut Earth & Soul three months ago amid a rental dispute.
Gilmour purchased the Woonona cafe in January 2014 and over the years built up a loyal customer base.
But the business had its challenges - high rent, extra competition and rising costs chief among them - so when her lease was up, she approached the landlord about a rent reduction.
It was denied. Worse yet, she says, was that her rent was to soon rise by $8500 a year. It was a devastating blow.
"It meant I would have gone under at some point - be it six months, or 12 months or whatever, the writing was on the wall," Gilmour said.
"When push came to shove, I walked away. Losing a business that has a dollar value on it is gut-wrenching."
Fortunately she already had a casual job in retail and was able to secure full-time hours.
Gilmour has been out of the cafe game for a few months and it's given her time to take stock of her life.
While she would not rule out opening another cafe, the longer she's out, the less inclined she is to return.
"I needed a break," she says. "Anyone who goes into it not willing to put in 70-80 hours a week is fooling themselves and should reconsider.
"There's not a lot of return on that time and effort ... and [you realise] just what it takes to consistently make good coffees. There's a lot of coffee around, but not a lot of great coffee."
For Sandygoodwich, when the end came, it was not abrupt.
Rather it was a series of headaches - some short-lived like bombs going off in the street; others more long-lasting like council changes that reduced parking in the area and a slew of new cafes to compete with - that pounded away at both the passion and the profits.
"There was a construction site next door to us for three years," Huber said.
"It was noisy and dusty, there were disruptions to access, street closures during peak times ... and blasts going off from controlled explosions.
"It all slowly built up and took tiny bites out of our market, despite our best efforts."
Unwilling to compromise integrity, they knew the gig was up.
"We made enough to live on but not to pay ourselves super or a steady income," Huber says.
"We knew we had to build something more stable."
The couple opened Woonona restaurant Eat At Sandy's - which became Miller's labour of love - a year before Sandygoodwich closed, and kept it another year after that before selling up.
Since then, Huber has opened Millers Local Bakehouse on the same site as Sandygoodwich, where she can concentrate on her main food love: baking. Miller is now the head chef at the Deck at Thirroul's Ryan's Hotel.
Huber has no regrets about Sandygoodwich.
"We learnt so much and I feel really proud of what we were able to offer," she said.
"And I'm really grateful for our enthusiastic and loyal customers. It was an absolute pleasure."