How Kurri Kurri local Laura Johnson turned her family’s country pub from a hotel facing an uncertain future, to a global brand and multi-award nominated business in just two years.
To some it could look like a case of David and Goliath, as local Kurri pub the Chelmsford Hotel comes up against a list of business giants in three finalist categories of the 2019 Hunter Region Business Excellence Awards.
But chat with hotelier and business entrepreneur, Laura Johnson for a few minutes and you will soon see why the little hotel that could, is certainly destined for greatness.
The hotel is a finalist in the categories of Hospitality & Tourism, Customer Service, and Laura herself is up for Business Woman of the Year.
"It's very humbling to think that in this area you are seen to be making a contribution that is bigger than yourself," she said.
"I love to be able to help and support other people. I'm still a bit floored to be even nominated as there's some really deserving business women in the final.
"But in saying that, I would like to think I have found the right balance between business success and being a good human being, and what I mean by that is always making choices in line with my values as a person, a wife, a friend, a sister, a daughter, a mother, and a member of this community."
"I would like to think I have found the right balance between business success and being a good human being, and what I mean by that is always making choices in line with my values as a person, a wife, a friend, a sister, a daughter, a mother, and a member of this community..."
And her nomination is certainly well-deserved.
Two years ago, Laura and her husband Jay Jay were running a successful transport company, raising four children, and dealing with life's ups and downs. Then Laura received news her brother was ill and the family pub was facing uncertainty.
"Even though I had a full-time job running our transport company, I knew it was up to me to save our hotel," she said.
"Over a two-year period I have fortunately been able to bring us to the point where we are now able to invest in renovations. This is all while maintaining a marriage, raising four children, and running our transport company.
"In fact, for the past two years I haven't even taken a wage from the Chelly. I just wanted to save it."
The hotel's success can undoubtedly be attributed to Laura's leadership, values and creativity which together in 2018 saw the creation of Mulletfest, a unique event celebrating the infamous 'business in the front - party in the back', hairstyle.
The inaugural event elevated both Kurri and the Chelmsford Hotel onto the world stage, receiving global media coverage and attracting reporters from all over the country.
"This year was our second Mulletfest event which attracted around 2,000 people to the town," Laura said.
"The flow-on affect from that includes things like our local service-station doing its best Saturday of the year, the cafe down the street doing its best day of trade ever because people who came and stayed overnight had breakfast there. It's created a destination for people and a tourism injection into the local economy.
"It's something our town badly needed and that economic boost does wonders for the community as a whole.
"On top of that it's good, clean fun that celebrates kids, families and individuals. It's remained incident free, and to me it was really important that we could create something in line with our values and this year we also raised money for the Mark Hughes Foundation."
"It was really important that we could create something in line with our values and this year we also raised money for the Mark Hughes Foundation..."
While Laura is humble about her own nomination, she is fiercely proud of her team and the fact that together they have elevated the hotel to be recognised as a finalist among a number of strong Hunter-based businesses.
"We are thrilled with all three nominations, but to be a finalist in the Hospitality & Tourism category given the size of the players around us including vineyards, hotels, B&Bs, cafes and restaurants, for us to be represented, especially being a country pub, is a great honour," Laura said.
"Then to also be a finalist in the Customer Service category makes me extremely proud, because we have such diverse service requirements given the varying aspects of our business.
"We service customers with off-premise sales in the bottle shop, while our on-premise service includes everyone from cleaners and gaming staff, to bar and kitchen staff.
"But we have an amazing team and they understand so well the importance of customer service and most importantly, the concept of treating others how you would like to be treated.
"That is key in our service model and something I have always tried to keep in mind when leading by example.
"I couldn't be more proud, and these nominations are for everyone, because I couldn't do what I do without my team. They are like family."
The 2019 Hunter Business Awards for Excellence will be held on Friday, 20 September at Cessnock Leagues Club.