Loco’s brings new tastes to Barwon Heads

February 3, 2024 BY

MoL pub group owner Matt Vero will open Loco's in Barwon Heads this week. Photo: ANGUS SMITH

In the hospitality world, Matt Vero is a name that commands attention.

The MoL pub group owner is the force behind Armadale’s Orrong Hotel, Healesville Hotel, Marquis of Lorne, Union House and the Mt Erica Hotel to name a few.

His recent collaboration with Recreation Brewing introduces Loco’s, destined to be a focal point in the flourishing hospitality scene on Barwon Heads’ Hitchcock Avenue.

The venue is set to offer a unique dining experience, featuring tacos, oysters, atole, and selections from local breweries and vineyards.

The Recreation story began when Vero struck up a conversation with a patron at his bar, a friend of a friend.

“I met Ben at one of my pubs, and our partnership evolved rapidly from there,” Vero said.

Ben Collins turned out to be the co-owner of Coffetti Gelato, also located on Hitchcock Avenue. The two hit it off and decided to collaborate.

“We wanted to create a beer that stood out, both in flavour and philosophy,” Vero said.

Their vision for Recreation Brewing was to craft a great-tasting, low-alcohol beer that’s light on calories.

MoL group director Matt Vero. Photo: ANGUS SMITH

Recreation was a huge success and is now sold in bars and bottle shops across Victoria, and Loco’s emerged as the logical next step.

“We kind of just figured that most beer brands these days need a home or a starting point, a bit of a venue,” Vero said.

“But as a small beer company, it doesn’t generate the funds to create a brewpub.

“Therefore, Loco’s presented the ideal opportunity to introduce our brand, sell our beer, and connect with the community.”

Vero’s journey in hospitality began in Armadale’s back streets in 2010 with the opening of Coin Laundry Cafe.

“Over five or six years, I launched and sold about six other venues, then decided to dive into the pub industry,” he said.

Located on the corner of Bridge Road and Hitchcock Avenue, Loco’s replaces what was previously a simple fish and chip shop and then the short-lived Corner Store Cafe.

Seeing a golden opportunity in the Bellarine Peninsula, Vero envisioned more than a seasonal destination; he sought to establish a regular haunt for locals.

A few simple changes transformed the venue from an unappealing eyesore into a welcoming haven.

The initial step was removing the fence that divided the bar from the street, followed by repainting the harsh musk pink walls with a more mellow white.

The fence was replaced with mature olive trees from Collins’ farm, enhancing the space with a bucolic-Tuscan charm while keeping it open and inviting.

Chef Shannon Henry, the kitchen will present a diverse range of dishes, including carne asada and ceviche.

Stepping into Loco’s, guests are now enveloped in an atmosphere that artfully blends modernity with rustic charm.

The interior showcases a sophisticated palette of earth tones, accented by vibrant splashes of colour, reminiscent of a lively Mexican marketplace.

Wooden furnishings, coupled with industrial-style lighting and a stainless-steel kitchen, create a warm and inviting ambiance.

Unique design elements and repurposed materials reflect the venue’s commitment to creativity and sustainability.

The thoughtfully designed space is not just a feast for the tastebuds but also for the eyes, promising an immersive dining experience that resonates with the spirit of Barwon Heads.

When designing the space Vero and team set out to create a venue for all seasons.

“Our aim is for it to become a favourite all year round, not just in summer,” he said.

Loco’s aims to redefine casual dining in Barwon Heads with a menu inspired by Latin street food, offering light and flavourful dishes ideal for any occasion.


Overseen by local chef Shannon Henry, the kitchen will present a diverse range of dishes, including carne asada and ceviche.

“We’re bringing a Latin flair, and our offerings extend beyond typical Mexican cuisine,” Vero said.

For Vero, the real success of Loco’s will be its acceptance and popularity with the local community, especially during the quieter seasons.

“We aim to create a space where locals feel at home, whether it’s a sunny afternoon or a cosy winter evening,” he said.

Loco’s opens this week, contingent on the approval of their liquor licence.