A life, and a living, behind the bar

FEATURE STORY

For the past 11 years, Julian and Kylie Cross have made a life, and a living, working behind the bar.


A former barman, Julian was asked to run his first hotel, The Kearsley, in 2007 while his wife Kylie was still enjoying a career in the make-up industry.


“I was first asked to become a publican at The Kearsley Hotel and I ran that by myself until I moved to the next venue which was the Cessnock Hotel,” he said.

“That was when Kylie left her role in the make-up industry to join me, and we have been doing it together ever since.”


For Cessnock local Kylie, the shift was life-changing and something that required a giant leap of faith.


“I am a country girl at heart,” she said.

“But I enjoyed the make-up industry and the lifestyle it provided me. I was always doing make-up and spent five years living in Sydney wining and dining.

“But Jules couldn’t join my industry, so I joined his and at first it was quite challenging for me. It took me a while to settle in, but once I did I never looked back.”


After spending four years at The Cessnock Hotel, the couple were offered another opportunity, this time to move to Newcastle.


While they had no idea at the time, the move would become one of the most memorable experiences of their career.


“The job was running the Swansea Hotel and it turned out to be an eye opener that’s for sure,” Julian said.

“It was so busy. It was intense. We weren’t used to such a bustling venue with regular gaming, high-end food and big bars. But we got used to it and just loved it.”


During their time at The Swansea Hotel, the couple’s love for the venue shone through and together they increased revenue by 36 per cent over two years.

During their time at The Swansea Hotel, the couple’s love for the venue shone through and together they increased revenue by 36 per cent over two years.


With no intention to leave the Swansea Hotel, the pair continued to live locally and manage the hotel until they received some news that would once again change the direction of their lives.


Kylie was pregnant.


Knowing they would need the support of family to raise their first child, Julian and Kylie made the difficult decision to move back to Cessnock.


“We knew we would need that kind of support infrastructure once Kylie had the baby, so we headed home and were fortunate enough to take on Peden’s,” Julian said.

“It was another high-volume hotel, located in Cessnock, and we stayed there for two years using the experience we gained at Swansea to make sure the venue continued to thrive.”


In fact, Julian and Kylie did so well at Peden’s that the hotel eventually became too busy for a couple raising a two-old daughter, and they knew another move was inevitable.


Nine months later and the couple have settled themselves at The Royal Hotel Pub & Kitchen, Murrurundi. A place they now intend to call home. For good.


“When we got the call it was just really exciting because the Royal is an historical hotel,” Julian said.

“In fact it’s the oldest in the area, built back in 1863, and when the owner said he had plans to rejuvenate it we were thrilled because we’ve never had the chance to be a part of something like that.

“We’ve always walked into hotels after they've been established and that already have an existing business model, so this is something really special for us.


“We’ve always walked into hotels after they've been established and that already have an existing business model, so this is something really special for us.


In less than a year, Julian and Kylie have already increased afternoon traffic by implementing a Happy Hour initiative and have also hired a new chef for the restaurant, which Julian says is now busier than ever.


“I always wanted to create a steak and ribs restaurant. We have done that here and it is working really well,” Julian said.

“We also added a meal delivery service, kids eat free nights and all kinds of things like that which are increasing business.

“We also have Keno now, and TAB is on the way. Part of our renovation will also include increasing the size of the restaurant and eventually adding accommodation as well.”


Overseeing the renovation itself will be yet another challenge for the couple, given the hotel’s historical significance and heritage listing.

Image courtesy of the State Library of NSW - c 1890


“This was an original Cobb & Co staging post and the stable building is still out the back,” Julian said.

“We need to keep as much of the original features, fixtures and colour scheme as possible due to it’s heritage listing.

“There is a lot of history here, including the famous fire at the stables back in 1881.”


According to The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser, the historic fire was a somewhat controversial moment in the hotel’s long history.


A story which ran in the paper on 18 October, 1818 states ‘it is surmised that someone must have lighted his pipe near the building and thrown the match down alight- or that children were playing about with matches, Mr Sidney (owner) thinks someone set fore to the building. These are of course mere suppositions’.


Times have changed a lot since then, and so has the way the hotel operates, thanks to Julian and Kylie.

The couple credit their ability to consistently grow the hotel’s patronage to lessons learned during their time at both The Swansea Hotel and Peden’s.


“Engaging with the community is the key to running a successful pub,” Kylie said.

“Living onsite and really being a part of the town is what makes a pub thrive and we love that. We love being a part of this community and the people here are incredible.”


“Living onsite and really being a part of the town is what makes a pub thrive and we love that. We love being a part of this community and the people here are incredible.”


But not satisfied to just provide the community with an amazing venue, Julian and Kylie have also invested a lot of energy into creating fundraising events to raise money for non-profit groups.


“One of our fundraisers is the Cowboy’s for Cancer event and that is endorsed by the Cancer Council of Australia,” Kylie said.

“It started as a result of a Cowboy’s Reunion event we launched last year which saw cowboys from all over Australia come here and get together to talk and laugh about old times.

“Unfortunately, a lot of older cowboys are impacted by cancer so we decided to start the Cowboys for Cancer fundraiser which includes raffles, entertainment, donations, lunch and all those kinds of things with all proceeds going to the Cancer Council.”


Looking to the future, and the couple say they are excited about the possibilities for both the hotel and their family.


“We love living here, we really do,” Julian said.

''Everyone is happy, no one fights, there is trust and safety here and that’s what we want. Even the old cowboys will often be here, sitting down on the ground and colouring in with our daughter. It’s just amazing.

“I really believe we have the chance to do something special here, not just for the hotel and the community but for ourselves as well.”

#upperhunter #roualhotelmurrurundi #mylocal #pubs #hotels #ahanewcastlehunter


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Australian Hotels Association 2018