After helping to transform Wollongong's cafe scene when they opened in 2008, Lee and Me's owners say they plan to stick around for a long time yet.
With big gatherings still off the cards as the pandemic wears on, Lower Crown Street was home to a birthday party of a different kind this week.
To mark their 12th anniversary, Lee and Me cafe owners Ben and Naomi Hudson and Lee and Shay Sullivan instead set up a huge display of balloons out the front of their landmark cafe.
In a time of business closures and economic hardship, Mr Hudson said marking their annual milestone felt especially significant.
"We just wanted to create something for this year, even though we couldn't do what we'd normally do to thank our community for sticking with us all this time," he said.
Lee and Me burst onto Wollongong's cafe scene in 2008, when things like serious coffee, artful food and industrial-chic decor were still a novelty in the city.
It was mid-GFC, and Ms Sullivan said they were warned that it wasn't a good time to be opening a new business.
"Our expectations were low, and people told us that it would be quiet," she said.
"But we had customers," Mr Hudson said. "We were sort of full from day one. And we were working so hard, for a few years we were also almost losing money."
That, he said was just the reality of opening a business in an industry with small margins, but - with loans from family and frugal habits - they were able to weather through.
"I would have hated to have just been opening a business in this pandemic though," Ms Sullivan said. "The support we got from our loyal customers in this time has been amazing."
Likewise, Mr Hudson said he's never felt such a strong sense of community as in the past few months.
"I think because we were one of the first cafes of this type, along with Diggies, we got to create this community of people who would come in every day," he said.
"You see their kids, they see your kids and you see them every day, and it's those people who got us through the past few months."
Lee and Me has always been a family affair. The two men grew up as best mates, and then Mr Sullivan married Mr Hudson's sister Shay.
"When you're family you can go through thick and thin - and that's a big reason Lee and Me is still here," Mr Hudson said.
It also meant the cafe was a big risk financially, and their extended clan invested a lot.
"I remember I was the money conscious one, I was worried at the time," Ms Sullivan said.
"Our parents have been great, for the finance and also for looking after all our little kids while we were working six days a week at the start," Mr Hudson said.
"Naomi's family have helped, Lee's dad was there in the kitchen doing dishes for a can of Coke. Everyone put a lot into it. We were also young, and a bit silly, and we did things that I wouldn't really do these days - but maybe that's a good thing."
One of those risks opening the still-popular venue His Boy Elroy in 2012 - a US-style burger and whiskey joint in Globe Lane.
"The night scene wasn't what it is now, so we felt like there was a spot there to challenge ourselves," Mr Hudson said.
"We loved doing it, but it was a lot of work for all of us to be working across the two venues, and it was also really different to running a cafe."
After seven years, they decided to sell in 2019.
It's really hard because there's always another thing. You think things are looking good and then the verandah upstairs goes out of action, or a new cafe opens and trade drops off for a month while people go and try the new place.
"We missed that sense of community and the everyday contact with our customers - because people don't go to a burger bar every day," Mr Hudson said.
In addition to building their own empire, the Lee and Me team can take partial credit for many independent eateries which have popped up in Wollongong over the past decade.
"I think people have maybe seen what we've done and thought 'we can do this'," Mr Hudson said.
"We have had a lot of employees that have left and done their own thing."
He said Moore Street General in Austinmer, Hevan in Corrimal, and the now closed All and Sundry in Woonona were examples of much-loved cafes which were seeded out of Lee and Me. Likewise, Andy Burns - who now runs the successful Burnsbury Hospitality group - ran the Lee and Me kitchen when it first opened.
"It's nice to have a connection to all these places, and we've loved having good employees who have wanted to go off and do their own things over the years," Mr Hudson said.
More than a decade in, the two couples say they still don't quite feel comfortable - which is perhaps why the business remains so popular with diners young and old.
"Maybe this year we've finally been able to relax a bit - it's much more enjoyable now, we know what to do and what not to do," Mr Hudson said.
"But it's really hard because there's always another thing. You think things are looking good and then the verandah upstairs goes out of action, or a new cafe opens and trade drops off for a month while people go and try the new place.
"It always keeps you on your toes, and it means you can't go stale."
Asked how long they plan to stick with it, he's adamant Lee and Me isn't going anywhere.
"When we started I was 30, and I don't know if back then I would have said 'when I'm 50 I'm going to run a cafe'," Mr Hudson said
"But now I'm getting closer to that, I sort of enjoy it and I don't want to not do it. So I guess now I do picture doing this til I'm 50, and even past then. Maybe I'll be here when I'm 80."
His sister agreed, and said it was particularly rewarding to see some of their teenage children - who were all younger than school age when the cafe opened - now working their first jobs in the cafe.
"You can really see that this could become a true family business," she said.
"We have three of them now working in the cafe, and we've got customers that have some in from day one and seen the kids grow."