Muzza’s has the lolly business licked

Caroline and Petria Powell tuck into the lollies and ice cream at Muzza’s Milk Bar.

Susanna Freymark

The story about the renowned Muzza’s Milk Bar begins with Murray Powell, aka Muzza.

Muzza was partial to a Licorice Allsort. His wife Petria Powell still loves the stripy licorice stack.

The milk bar in Evans Head has every old fashioned lolly you can think – and new ones from all around the world.

On a busy tourist day, staff will scoop and serve more than 500 ice creams.

And it is where Petria and her daughter Caroline Powell remember Muzza in every ice cream and milkshake they make. And in the bags of lollies children clutch to their chests as they reluctantly leave the shop.

An excited customer in Muzza’s.

Muzza’s celebrates its 10th anniversary in December. And if Muzza was here, he’d be tucking into those Licorice Allsorts.

Muzza was a cop for almost 40 years with 25 of those years at Byron Bay Police station. He loved his sweets, Petria said.

“He’d get something sweet from the canteen every day.”

In 2011, Muzza was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He died at the age of 57.

Murray Powell was a police officer for almost 40 years.

Petria and their six children were left without a husband and father.

In 2013, Petria opened Muzza’s Milk Bar to keep her busy and as a way to cope with the grief.

“My whole outlook changed. We had a caravan and we were going to travel,” she said of the plans she had made with Muzza.

Instead, she opened a milk bar not only to keep herself busy but to “make memories” for her children.

All the lollies were sold separately, and still are – kids can order, one of those, two of those – whatever configuration they want from the array of lollies.

The shop used to stay open until the last customer, Petria said.

“We often closed at midnight.”

“Once (then-mayor) Ernie Bennett came trotting past at 10.30pm, he asked what I needed and I said a bike rack (as the children left their bikes strewn across the footpath out the front of the shop). He got one in 24 hours,” Petria laughs.

Petria also had a shoe shop in Lismore.

It was all getting too much for Petria on her own so Caroline stepped forward. She was 20.

“I want to take it over,” she said and from July 2018, Caroline owned and ran the milk bar.

She was finishing her teaching degree, had little experience running a business but she went “full steam ahead”, she said.

She put on the first paid staff member outside of the family – Vicki, who used to babysit for the family.

Caroline Powell next to the lolly stand.

Then Muzza’s Milk Bar was in the news for all the wrong reasons. In 2020, they were one of the first businesses on the North Coast to have a covid-positive case.

Caroline heard about it on TV. She had to advise staff, shut the shop and learn how to deal with a retail business while the pandemic was on.

“I’m proud of her,” Petria said.

“In covid when the shop couldn’t open, she delivered.”

Caroline said it was “like pushing a boulder up a hill” but she made sure the website and Facebook page had enticing photos of Muzza’s famous lollies, ice creams and donuts and she delivered them to people’s homes.

Caroline and Petria Powell.

It worked. It got the business through the pandemic.

Muzza’s is the kind of place that makes you feel like a kid, no matter how old you are. It has the lollies you like – Caroline’s favourites are the chewy strawberries and cream – and it is full of colour and chatter.

Caroline said they never rush a customer when they’re making choice about lollies or what flavour ice cream to have.

We show kindness and we’re talkative, she said, but we never rush them.

The confectionery in the shop comes from all over Australia as well as New Zealand, the UK, USA and the Netherlands.

What ice cream shall I have?

The ice cream comes from a supplier in Brisbane.

“They supply the Everest ice cream brand,” Caroline said.

“They supply as far north as Rockhampton and as far south as Newcastle.

“We are their largest scoop ice cream customer. Last year we sold more ice cream than Dreamworld and Australia Zoo.”

The Powells have had their detractors along the way. Some people thought a milk bar filled with lollies and ice cream wouldn’t survive.

They have and they’re thriving.

The day Muzza died on December 28 starts their busiest time of the year that runs until New Year.

Caroline and Petria giggle. It’s as if he wants them to keep busy and to have fun.

Locals put up a sign for visitors coming to Evans Head. Photo: Contributed

In busy times, some of Muzza’s children return home to help in the milk bar.

Caroline points to a customer who used to come to the milk bar as a kid and there he is there at the counter choosing an ice cream with his daughter.

Muzza would have been thrilled to see this happy place made in his memory.

The little boy who walks out the shop with his mouth and chin smeared with rainbow coloured ice cream knows none of this. All that matters is the cone held tightly in his hand and the taste of the ice cream.

A childhood memory is being created right now – he just doesn’t know it yet.

Muzza’s celebrates its anniversary on December 3 at Club Evans.

Inside Muzza’s Milk Bar. Photos: Susanna Freymark
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