In an ever-changing industry where hotels and pubs change hands on what often feels like a monthly basis, for regular patrons at the Junction Hotel, the friendly face that greets them every visit has thankfully remained the same.
Her name is Mardi Callister.
Make no mistake, hospitality runs in the veins of third-generation bar manager Mardi Callister who, amid an ever-changing industry, has remained a constant source of charm and warmth since her parents first bought the, then named, Junction Tavern in 1986.
Now owned and operated by one of hospitality’s most recognised hoteliers Rolly de With, the new-look, boutique-style Junction Hotel is a far cry from its corner pub days, but thanks to Mardi has never lost the comfort and local feel it’s provided to regular patrons for years.
“Working in hotels was always on the cards for me,” Mardi said.
“My grandmother used to own the Fire Station Hotel and was still changing her own kegs at age 82. My parents also owned a string of hotels, first the Club House Hotel at Maitland then the Federal Hotel here in Newcastle and Cricketers Arms at Cooks Hill. Eventually they purchased the Junction Tavern when I was 21.”
While the industry has undergone significant changes since Mardi first started out as a barmaid, according to Rolly, neither the industry nor venue itself, has ever outgrown the vital role Mardi plays.
“When I first bought the hotel in 2005 all the staff were petrified because they thought we were nightclub operators with no care for community values,” Rolly said.
“In fact, Mardi’s initial reaction was to immediately resign, but I knew it wouldn’t take long to prove that we were community focused, that we had strong family values, and that I needed her on board. So, one of the first tasks I set myself was to get her back.”
After agreeing to talk things through, Mardi returned to the hotel once owned by her parents and has never looked back.
“Rolly has always been great to work with and I certainly have no regrets about choosing to continue my career at the Junction Hotel,” Mardi said.
“I learned so much watching my family build their business around hotels, my father and brother Darren of course, but my grandmother and mother were such strong female presences in my life even since I was a little girl. They were always working in and around pubs and I just knew this was where I was meant to be, for better or worse.”
“They know her, but even more important is the fact she knows them. She knows them all by name and not just our patrons. Everyone who lives and works here, people who walk by. She remembers all of them and there’s 100s of people she knows
While Mardi’s role centres on being front of house, over the years she has also grown and developed her role to include knowledge about food and wine, and yet her contribution still goes much further than what may be in her job description.
“Mardi has a unique talent and that is she’s able to read people so well,” Rolly said.
“When we first came in there was a table of knowledge, otherwise known as our existing locals, which included about 15 gentlemen. They were older men, some war veterans, who had a lot of history here and were not keen on us changing the style of the pub.
“But they loved Mardi and as the venue changed and grew, it was her constant presence, openness and smile that helped us together move through that transition. She became the ever-present connection to the bones and foundation of the hotel and that was so important.
"You can change the walls and re-paint and it doesn’t matter how much you spend on renovating, it’s the people inside that make the difference and for everyone who calls the Junction Hotel their local, that person was, and always has been, Mardi.
“They know her, but even more important is the fact she knows them. She knows them all by name and not just our patrons. Everyone who lives and works here, people who walk by. She remembers all of them and there’s 100s of people she knows by name.”
"You can change the walls and re-paint and it doesn’t matter how much you spend on renovating, it’s the people inside that make the difference and for everyone who calls the Junction Hotel their local, that person was, and always has been, Mardi..."
- hotelier Rolly de With
For Mardi, while the hotel may have changed a lot since the 1980s, what she considers her responsibilities at work have not.
“No matter how many years go by, or how many renovations are done, our patrons still expect the same thing. They come in and they may not be in a good place emotionally. They might be having a rough day, they might be hurting, they may be celebrating, they may be lost in themselves or any number of things, but at the end of the day they want to be welcomed and made to feel comfortable and at home,” she said.
“They want a well poured beer and someone to hand it to them with respect and courtesy and that’s something that will never go out of style.
“I’d like to think that’s something I’ve become quite skilled at over the years and I do pride myself on being open, genuine and able to spot a trouble-maker that is purposely and unnecessarily going to upset everyone else. I do care about our customers and if doing my role well means I can make their day better, then that’s a career I’m certainly proud of.”The