Welcome to Graze at the Willow Tree Inn ...

AHA AWARDS




A CUT ABOVE

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Top Row: Sam Hanna, Charles Hanna, Jamie Rose (Graze Head Office),
Jodie Stuart-Robertson, Sabi Pabla (Head Chef) Bottom Row: Edwina
Hanna, Cheryl Hanna, Tim Muschamp (Hotel Manager)

The family owned and operated Graze at Willow Tree Inn has taken out two highly coveted awards at this year’s Awards for Excellence. Triana O’Keefe talks to owner Charles Hanna about his vision and values.

A brief overview of the venue

The Willow Tree Inn on the New England Highway at Willow Tree NSW, was built in 1913 and like a lot of old, unprofitable country pubs, had not had any money spent on the building for many years. I purchased the pub in 2009 as I believed that if we were able to create a family-friendly country pub on a main highway, with great food including our own beef and lamb, that the locals would support it and support it, they have. The Willow Tree Inn is not your normal country pub, as we have rebuilt the entire hotel from the floorboards up, while still operating the original Front Bar throughout the construction period. We completely demolished some of the smaller rooms to create larger, open spaces for our back bar, kitchen and Graze Restaurant. The separate Graze Bistro and function room was built where an old unused beer garden once operated on a dirt floor. The new bistro was built using 100 year old recycled ironbark beams and timber flooring. The design and architectural drawings for the entire building and renovation project were professionally done by a heritage architect to ensure that the end result was a family-friendly country pub that looked like it was built in 1913 but with all the latest hotel and restaurant equipment. The Willow Tree Inn’s customer base has now expanded from the Liverpool Plains through the reputation for our “Colly Creek” steaks in particular, and we now have customers coming from as far as Sydney and Brisbane when travelling the New England Highway.

What does winning Best Steak Venue and Best Restaurant – Country mean for Graze?

To win the Best Steak Venue and Best Restaurant – Country is a dream come true. All our staff from Management through to the kitchen, wait staff and bar staff come to work each day with a positive attitude and a passion for creating outstanding food delivered with professional service. Our entire Graze team are “over the moon” to win these two most important awards for our restaurant and the recognition of a job well done.

What has the past 12 months looked like?

To win the Best Steak Venue and Best Restaurant – Country is a dream come true. All our staff from Management through to the kitchen, wait staff and bar staff come to work each day with a positive attitude and a passion for creating outstanding food delivered with professional service. Our entire Graze team are “over the moon” to win these two most important awards for our restaurant and the recognition of a job well done.

What is in store for the next 12 months?

We will endeavour to build on our reputation for great food and service by refreshing our menu choices every three months, but at the same time retaining our signature “Colly Creek” steaks. We also want to increase our occupancy rate for our accommodation units during the early part of the week which will automatically improve our numbers for Graze Restaurant. Our accommodation is often booked out on Friday and Saturday nights a couple of weeks in advance and we would love to replicate this scenario for the early part of the week.

How does the team at Graze set the venue apart from a crowded market?

All of our staff at Graze Restaurant are encouraged to connect with our customers in a friendly, professional manner with country hospitality. This genuine approach not only applies to Graze wait staff, but also to the bar and housekeeping staff. Our team takes pride in providing local knowledge and information to our customers travelling through Willow Tree. We tend to employ young wait staff who we feel can easily embrace our company ethos.

What standards do you set for the venue and the staff?

With Graze Restaurant, we only employ chefs that are passionate about their profession and what they put on the plate each day for our customers. You can have a great piece of Colly Creek beef, but it must also be cooked to perfection by staff that care about what they present. We also provide training to our wait staff who serve wine in the restaurant, about the various brands, vintages and regions available on our wine list. This is important since a lot of our employees are young people who do not necessarily drink wine.

How do you motivate staff to adopt these standards?

All of our staff at the Willow Tree Inn know that we only employ people that we believe will provide our customers with service that goes above and beyond what they would normally expect. Nearly all our staff are young people from good family backgrounds in the surrounding towns and villages, whose parents are very supportive of the employment opportunities offered by our company. Our chefs encourage their apprentices and kitchen staff to experiment with new entrees and desserts, which we will offer in addition to our Graze menu. Every young chef, given the chance, loves the opportunity to create something special and we find this encourages them to perform at a high level.

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