Region’s venues excel at hospitality awards
Pubs and restaurants across the region have been feted as among the best in Victoria.
The Australian Hotels Association’s (AHA) Victorian branch held its State Awards for Excellence last week, and venues from Newtown to Apollo Bay were on the winners’ list.
Geelong publican Andrew Clark of the Cremorne Hotel and The Wharf Shed was one of the most celebrated on the night, receiving the 2021 Nikakis Award.
Established in 1997 in memory of Nick Nikakis, the award recognises an individual or organisation who by their sustained performance and commitment serve as an inspiration to all in the industry.
“Our Nikakis Award winner certainly fits the bill of sustained performance and commitment,” AHA’s Victorian president David Canny said.
“He is humble, good humoured and generous.”
Andrew Clark admitted he was blindsided when his name was read out at the gala dinner at The Palladium at Crown.
“I’m very surprised that I was a winner, I had no idea. I’m very happy about it, of course, but I didn’t expect anything like that,” he said.
Andrew said the lockdowns of 2020 and the subsequent easing of coronavirus restrictions had only increased the appetite of people to sit down at Geelong’s pubs, clubs, cafes and restaurants.
“They’re coming just to have a good time, just to get out with their friends – they’ve been basically locked away for so long, so I think now people are happy to come out and enjoy the company of other friends,” he said.
“They’re still very conscious of price and value but the quality has to be there as well. A lot of pubs have changed their menus around a little bit in some ways.
“I think the quality has increased, people’s expectations are a little bit higher, but I think people want to get out and have a good time.”
He said the Geelong region’s food scene was doing well.
“We’ve got a great offering and a real variation of offering – from fine dining to clubs, hotels, cafes … there’s a great opportunity for people down here to get a cross-section of what they want to do.
“We’re finding the numbers are coming down (from Melbourne), so everyone’s experiencing a good time at the moment, but they really need to because COVID really knocked us around big time.”
The Queenscliff Brewhouse was awarded the Best Speciality Bar for its upstairs whiskey and cocktail lounge, while the Great Ocean Road Brewhouse in Apollo Bay also received recognition, being named the Best Innovative Retail Space Award.
Otway Brewing Group chief executive officer Andrew Noseda called the achievement a win for the region in hopes of attracting more visitors to the Bellarine Peninsula.
“It is great recognition for us, for our business and for our region,” he said.
“It is not just about our business; we are all working together with the Bellarine and looking to improve what we do to keep people interested and coming back.
“A customer is a person who comes back twice and not visits once.”
Following three years of operation, the Brewhouse’s speciality bar was awarded the top prize after receiving a mystery visit from a “blind judge”.
“You don’t know when the judges will come in or who you are speaking to so you can’t influence their perception,” Andrew Noseda said.
“I am very proud of what we done, we know we have something really different here and we are still growing and developing.
“We are probably a little overwhelmed to be judged the winner of that category in the context that there was nine finalists and only one other from regional Victoria while the rest were well-branded facilities in Melbourne.”
He said the speciality bar, which is open on Friday and Saturday, has a significant product offering with 500 different spirits on pour and an “incredible team”.
“You don’t get that sort of recognition if you just put the bottle on the shelf; it comes from the staff and their ability to help customers on the journey,” he said.
Along with the speciality bar, patrons can enjoy an award-winning Queenscliff brew seven days a week at the Gilbert Street location.
– WITH GEORGIA HOLLOWAY