A song was once penned with the lyrics, ‘two of the same – one of a kind’, a line which perfectly describes hospitality royalty Bruce and Vicki Woods, who recently announced they will retire from the industry after more than 30 years...
Both Bruce and Vicki Woods, whose list of individual and joint achievements are enough to inspire even the most community-minded person, have dedicated their lives to supporting their industry, their local community, numerous non-profit organisations, and also found time to together run a successful hotel – the Bushrangers Bar & Brasserie at Largs.
Prior to acquiring the Bushrangers, Bruce was the driving force behind the Lucky Country, as it was known in 1983, and the Commonwealth Hotel, and held the role of Australian Hotels Association (AHA) Newcastle Hunter President for more than 20 years. He also served as AHA NSW and National Secretary and Treasurer.
It was in his role with AHA Newcastle Hunter that he contributed significantly to government lobbying for improved trading conditions for local hotels and formed numerous community fundraising initiatives for non-profit organisations within the Hunter.
“The AHA Newcastle Hunter Sub-Branch has always been the largest in the state in terms of membership, and over the years Bruce has been instrumental in defending our industry’s position in Newcastle, as well as being a mentor to many of our members and hoteliers,” AHA Newcastle Hunter President Rolly de With said.
“In terms of community, Bruce was also a powerhouse, and along with Vicki, created a series of AHA community fundraising initiatives including balls and race days that provided funding for Hunter-based charity groups.
“He and Wayne Sampson were also the driving force behind changing our sub-branch meetings from morning to night-time gatherings which saw an exponential rise in attendance, engagement and participation. Those kinds of initiatives came simply from their in-depth understanding of our industry and members.”
Long-time Hunter hotelier and former AHA Newcastle Hunter AHA President Bruce Woods. Image courtesy of Maitland Mercury.
“The AHA Newcastle Hunter Sub-Branch has always been the largest in the state in terms of membership, and over the years Bruce has been instrumental in defending our industry’s position in Newcastle, as well as being a mentor to many of our members and hoteliers..."
While in the 1980s Vicki spent a couple of years as a Customs Agent, hospitality was in her blood and by 1989 she was the freehold owner of Bushrangers Bar & Brasserie.
Not content to be a successful businesswoman, spokesperson for women’s progress and local hotelier, Vicki used her platform within the hotel industry to find her voice and speak not only for her local community, but for the Hunter hospitality industry as a whole.
Her accomplishments include two terms as Deputy Mayor of Maitland City Council and a seat on Council for nine years. She was also the Chair for the Restaurant & Catering Industry Association (RCIA) Newcastle Hunter and elected to the State Board of RCIA before taking on the role of Vice President for six years and inevitably being inducted into their Hall of Fame.
She has also held key roles on numerous boards and committees including Director of Hunter Regional Tourism Organisation, Executive Committee member of Maitland Regional Art Gallery, Co- Founder and Secretary of Women’s Network (Hunter – NSW), Board Member of Lower Hunter and Central Coast Regional Environment Management Committee, Chairperson of the Maitland Liquor Accord, Executive Committee member of Maitland Chamber of Commerce, Committee member of Newcastle Licensing Accord, Chairperson of Maitland Tourism Advisory Panel, Committee member of PACT Lower Hunter Command, and Council Delegate for AHA NSW.
Vicki also currently holds a role within MS Peer Support, is an MS Ambassador and retains a position on the Hunter Medical Research Foundation (HMRI) raising money for important medical research that is close to her heart.
“On behalf of HMRI I cannot thank Bruce, Vicki and the whole Bushrangers team enough for all their amazing support of HMRI,” HMRI spokesperson Peree Watson said.
“Vicki has been an HMRI Foundation Member since 2008 and is our absolute star for fundraising. The Woods not only attend and generously support every event that HMRI holds, but together with the whole Bushranger’s team they have also held a series of “Let’s do Lunch” events to fundraise and highlight research in different areas. They have always led by example and encouraged all the Bushrangers staff to make a donation each week to HMRI, providing a wonderful gift to research.”
Vicki Woods and HMRI's Peree Watson
"Vicki has been an HMRI Foundation Member since 2008 and is our absolute star for fundraising. They have always led by example and encouraged all the Bushrangers staff to make a donation each week to HMRI, providing a wonderful gift to research..."
In addition to Bruce and Vicki's individual successes, the couple’s joint accomplishments also span more than three decades, and equate to more than $500,000 in funding, as they joined forces to support local community organisations including the Nicholas Foundation, Hunter Children’s Research Foundation, Variety – the Children’s Charity, Samaritans, Salvation Army, Hunter Prostate Council and sporting organisations such as Hunter Academy of Sport.
“While I was AHA Newcastle Hunter President, we had a fundraising committee that looked after an annual ball, race day and other various fundraising initiatives,” Bruce said.
“We would look at different non-profit groups that we could raise money for, but the most important part of what we did was to keep the funding local.
“People often want to help charity groups and so they donate to national organisations which is great, but as AHA Newcastle Hunter we wanted to make sure the money we raised went to Hunter branches of those organisations, so it stayed in our community. That was always, and continues to be, of great importance to me.”
For the past 30 years, under the leadership of Bruce and Vicki, the Bushrangers Bar & Brasserie has served as an incredibly popular community watering hole, destination venue, restaurant, wine bar and meeting place.
And not unlike the Woods themselves, the hotel has also been an overachiever receiving numerous accolades including 1993/1994/1997/1998, and 2005, AHA NSW Awards for Excellence Winner – Outstanding Community Service and Achievement, 2006 AHA National Awards for Excellence Winner - Outstanding Community Service and Achievement, 2006/2009/2011, and 2012 RCIA Awards for Excellence Winner - Best Restaurant in a Pub or Club.
“I think the success of the hotel came from Vicki and I identifying industry changes and the need to incorporate a stand-out food offering,” Bruce said.
“It’s something you really need to do well, so we focused on creating partnerships with suppliers and one of the biggest successes we’ve had with that offering came through supporting local wineries.
“In our restaurant, the majority of wines are made in the Hunter and we work very closely with local wine makers and owners. We have degustation dinners and create a wine of the month which is a living, revolving wine list and there’s not a winemaker in the Hunter that doesn’t want to be on our list. Through that we’ve also become a destination venue.”
"We have great pride in all of the organisations we have been, and will continue to be, a part of, in particular HMRI because we’ve been involved since the beginning and been fortunate enough to see it grow from the ground up..."
While there is no question that the presence of both Bruce and Vicki has positively impacted the world around them, the couple are quick to admit the past 30 years has undoubtedly changed their lives as well.
“For us there’s a lot of pride in community support and being allowed to participate in the organisations we’ve been involved with,” Bruce said.
“We have great pride in all of the organisations we have been, and will continue to be, a part of, in particular HMRI because we’ve been involved since the beginning and been fortunate enough to see it grow from the ground up.
“Prior to its creation we were losing researchers to other areas and now we have a world-class medical research facility right here in the Hunter and Vicki and I are so proud to be a part of that.
“Also for both Vicki and I, the recognition we have received from our peers has provided stand-out moments in our lives. For me, being inducted as a Life Member of the AHA was never something I set out to achieve, but to have that recognition of my contribution was overwhelming. It was the same for Vicki when she was inducted into the RCIA Hall of Fame. It’s the highest honour you can receive to have your peers recognise your work. There’s really nothing like it.”
More than 200 people turned out to wish Mr and Mrs Woods farewell at the Bushrangers Bar & Brasserie recently...
Looking to the future, Vicki said the plan is to slow down, do some travel and take more time to enjoy each other’s company.
But despite technically retiring, the spirit of community resides deep in their hearts and both Bruce and Vicki will continue to play a role in organisations that are important to them.
“We will continue being actively involved with the HMRI Foundation, Hunter Valley Sommeliers, Hunter Wine Tasting Club, Hunter Culinary Association in its role supporting young and upcoming chefs, the Brenda Clouten Young Achiever in Art Scholarship run by Maitland Regional Art Gallery, and in my role as an MS Ambassador and with MS Peer Support, as well as with the Newcastle Retired Hoteliers and AHA Life Members groups,” Vicki said.
Bushrangers Bar & Brasserie has been purchased by the McCoy family, long-time hoteliers who have owned a number of venues around NSW, including the Bennett Hotel at Hamilton which until recently had been in their family for more than 30 years.
“The McCoys and Vicki’s family both own hotels not a block away from each other at Redfern in Sydney and we have all been family friends and friendly business competitors for years, so it’s good to know they will be taking the reins,” Bruce said.