Landing on Their feet at Apsley
Before George Taylor moved to Australia, he was ‘more accustomed to drinking and eating in a pub than working in one’. At 18, George relocated from the English industrial city of Newcastle to London to pursue a career as a chef.
He gained experience in fine dining, particularly classic French cuisine and at one stage worked for multi-michelin star chef and television personality Gordon Ramsay.
So, what led a man with his experience to a hotel kitchen in the west Wimmera hamlet of Apsley?
Love, of course.
“I was working in London when I met my partner, Felicity,” George said.
“She’s originally from Edenhope. We were together for 12 months or so in England and then she came home, and dragged me behind her about six months later.”
The couple lived and worked in Melbourne for about four years before Felicity’s sister was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“We decided to move home to help her family out,” George said.
“It was certainly a culture change, moving from the country to the city.
“It is a different pace of life here, but it’s nice.
“Just as we showed up in town, this place was looking for a chef. So I landed on my feet.”
Apsley’s Border Inn reopened in 2014 following a three-year closure, when a group of local farming families came together to bring the town’s watering hole back to life.
The pub has gone from strength to strength, as evidenced at the recent Wimmera Business Awards, where the Border Inn won the food and beverage category and was nominated for best new business.
Both George and Border Inn manager Vanessa Grigg played major roles in the hotel’s success.
George has manned the kitchen for a little more than 12 months, while Vanessa has run the pub for about two years.
Vanessa started her hospitality career at the Border Inn several years ago before moving to Bendigo to gain further experience.
“I did my traineeship here, which was really good,” Vanessa said.
“It gave me a taste of hospitality. I went to Bendigo and worked there for about 10 years.
“I came back and worked at Horsham Golf Club for 12 months.
“It was while I was up there the pub started to take shape again.
“I got a phone call one day to ask if I was interested in coming back. I jumped at the opportunity.”
Vanessa said she knew she was ready to come home.
“All my family was here, my friends are here – just the chance to work locally again after being away was very appealing to me,” she said.
“I didn’t think I would be in charge of it – I never thought that would happen. But I’m loving the challenge.
“Having been away and learnt what happens in the industry, it was good to come back and show what I’ve learnt and to try to grow this business, make it successful and make it a place people want to come to.”
Vanessa said she and George worked well as a team.
“We talk about everything – menus, financial figures and staff. There’s nothing we don’t touch really,” she said.
“We go to monthly board meetings. We have to do a report, so if we’re both on the same page it makes it easier to answer questions and to support one another.
“We’re in a good spot. We’ve now been given the opportunity to explore and put our twist on things, which is exciting.”
George said he enjoyed creating the menus, which were seasonal.
He said the hotel offered traditional pub fare along with a changing specials board, which allowed him to be more creative.
“We try to get a lot of stuff as local as possible,” he said.
“We get lamb off different farmers every couple of weeks, so they can have a bit of competition with each other.
“We put the name of their property on the board as well. It’s a talking point.
“You try to explore what options people have got, such as reared pigs.
“I’m looking into getting some ducks and rabbits at the moment.”
George said he loved the autonomy he had in the kitchen.
“With 23 owners you think there’d always be someone who says ‘I want this on the menu’, or ‘I want that’, but that’s not the case,” he said.
“I’ve got complete free rein as to what I want to do.
“I’ve never been in this sort of position before.
“I’ve always been relatively junior in the kitchen.
We’re in a good spot. We’ve now been given the opportunity to explore and put our twist on things, which is exciting – Vanessa Grigg
I’ve always just had a job. This is more of a management role.
“When you see you’ve been busier the month just gone compared with the month before that, there’s a certain amount of pride that you’re going in the right direction.”
George and Vanessa are both looking forward to summer and hope to make the most of opportunities created by winter and spring rain.
Vanessa said full lakes would attract people to the region.
“Hopefully they’ll come and see us while they’re here,” she said.
“We’ve got a free camping area out the back for visitors.
“Most stay in self-contained caravans. They pull in and we find they generally come in and have a meal and spend quite well.
“They’re good people to have around because they’re travelling and are relaxed and happy.
“Once they have a meal, they say, ‘Oh my God. I didn’t expect to have a meal like that here, in a country pub in the middle of nowhere’.
“We get that sort of feedback a lot. Once people get here they have a great time.”
Border Inn manager Vanessa Grigg and chef George Taylor toast the business’s success at
the Wimmera Business Awards.