FOR much of her life, Nicola Palmer had driven past the Watervale Hotel wishing someone would realise its great potential. One night, she and partner Warrick Duthy went in for dinner and, before leaving, had agreed to buy the place.
The pair now have grand plans for the pub, such as private dining rooms, a bottle store, a revamped beer garden and expanded kitchen facilities, which will be part of a wider hospitality training scheme.
Nicola, the long-time head chef at her family’s Skillogalee Winery, says the first priority has been opening the hotel seven days a week and encouraging local patronage.
“We want to re-engage the community and make them feel they have their local pub back,” she says. “People are loving what we are doing.”
The couple has also bought two nearby properties where they will grow fruit and vegetables for the pub. The farms will be used in “paddock to plate” training that includes experience in the kitchen and wine service.
“We struggle to find staff in the country,” Nicola says, “and we want to encourage young people to get hands-on experience.”