How Kurri Kurri local Laura Johnson elevated her family’s country pub onto a global stage



She is the undisputed Queen of the Mullet but don’t for a minute think the title is anything other than a compliment to Chelmsford Hotelier Laura Johnson.


Three years ago, Laura took her family’s struggling local pub at Kurri Kurri and elevated it onto an international stage with the creation of Mulletfest, an event unlike any other, anywhere in the world.


On the surface, Mulletfest looks like a simple and fun spin on what has traditionally been classed as a bogan haircut, deemed business in the front, party in the back, and coupled with thongs and an ill-fitting singlet.


But Mulletfest is so much more than that.


Thanks to Laura’s strategic planning and love for her community, Mulletfest was designed not only to boost the profile of her family’s hotel, but to also lift the economy and spirits of a struggling township.


“This year was our third Mulletfest event which attracted around 2,500 people to Kurri," 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 more than $5,000 for the Mark Hughes Foundation."


Since its inception in 2018, Mulletfest has been featured nationally on the Today Show as well as all national news stations including Seven, Prime, ABC, SBS and WIN.


It has also made global headlines featuring in the iconic New York Post and BBC, while news crews also flew in from Canada, New Zealand, Norway, Ireland and even as far as Bulgaria to cover the event.



Thanks to Laura’s strategic planning and love for her community, Mulletfest was designed not only to boost the profile of her family’s hotel, but to also lift the economy and spirits of a struggling township...


Last year, Laura was also a finalist in the 2019 Hunter Region Business Excellence Awards for Businesswoman of the Year, while her pub the Chelly as it is affectionally known, was a finalist in the categories of Hospitality & Tourism, and Customer Service. Their Friday Sirlion was also recognised as a finalist in last year’s Australian Hotel Association NSW Awards for Excellence.


"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.


"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."


And the nomination was certainly well-deserved.


Two years ago, Laura and her husband Jay Jay were running a successful transport company, raising four children, and together 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 I had to help 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.


Laura and her Chelmsford team at the AHA NSW Awards for Excellence

Laura is also fiercely proud of her team and the fact that together they have elevated the hotel to be recognised both among strong Hunter-based businesses as well as overseas thanks to Mulletfest.


"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,” she said.


"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.


“For me as a person, a mother, and a business woman I have always tried to keep in mind when leading by example and I believe it is secret to success in every aspect of life.”

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Australian Hotels Association 2018