Land­ing on Their feet at Ap­s­ley

LifeStyle Wimmera - - INSIDE - By Sarah Scully

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.

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