Recipe for success: Vicki Woods

Vicki Woods

Photo: Edward Cross

For the past 29 years, Vicki Woods has been at the helm of Bushrangers Bar & Brasserie in Maitland, NSW—an award-winning dining destination.

“My parents owned and operated a hotel from when I was 11 years old but I never thought I would subject my children to a hotel business. As it turned out, I was overseas with my mother when my husband and my father purchased the Largs Hotel. That was 29 years ago. My 28-year-old son was born and raised in the hotel. Ironically, he’s now a chef.

“When we first opened, we didn’t have any staff and the four of us did everything. Initially, Largs Hotel just had a small bistro where the big seller was a 500-gram steak with chips and eggs.

“We did a total renovation in 2000 closing the hotel and running a temporary set-up in the beer garden. We rechristened the business as Bushrangers Bar & Brasserie and now the restaurant comprises half the hotel. Bushrangers is located in the small village of Largs that is not on the way to anywhere.

“We still marvel at how we get so many diners from everywhere—Singleton, Muswellbrook, Nelsons Bay, Sydney…

“Bushrangers is a relaxed place and our restaurant is very much meet, greet and seat. We are in the Entertainment Book that offers discounts for various restaurants and we are told that we track far better than other restaurants. Our customers are seated with full service of meals and drinks to the table and don’t move until they are walking out the door. Essentially we are a restaurant and it’s our point of difference to other hotels.

“It’s been wonderful to receive so many awards over the years, including the five times we won the Restaurant & Catering Association (R&CA) Award for Excellence for Best Restaurant in a Pub, Newcastle, Hunter & Central Coast Region. I was honoured to be inducted into the R&CA NSW Hall of Fame in 2013.

“To be successful in this business, you have to love it. You have to get out of bed and look forward to going to work. We have 27 staff now, and they are an engaged and integral part of Bushrangers.

“To be successful in this business, you have to love it. You have to get out of bed and look forward to going to work. ”Vicki Wood

“We also like to change things regularly. We have a Chef’s Table every four to six weeks. Our chef and local winemakers present an eight-course degustation matched to wines from one of the many nearby Hunter wineries. Numbers are limited to 50 and usually 35 have been to one of our previous lunches. Our Chef’s Table is used to update our wine list. Wine is not on our wine list without the winemaker doing a wine dinner, a wine tasting, or a chef’s table.

“The two biggest sellers on the day will become our wine of the month and from there, they progress to our wine list. We have 56 wines on our list, 32 white and 24 red. Every two wines that are added sees the two slowest sellers come off. If you want your wine in our place, you have to work for it.

“We get a lot of repeat customers at Bushrangers—some we see two or three times a week. When one particular chap walks in, we immediately place an order for a medium-rare steak, a kitchen salad, and a bottle of Tyrrells shiraz.

“My husband is an essential part of the business and we make a good team. My health has deteriorated in recent years and I wouldn’t be able to do what we do if I didn’t have him.

“To anyone considering running a restaurant or cafe, I would advise them to work hard and constantly monitor where you’re at. Know your stock levels. Cross off when your deliveries come in. Be aware of everything that’s going on. In 29 years, I’ve had three shortages caused by staff shrinkage. The first one was manageable. The second one was a good hit. The third one was unbelievable. Those staff no longer work for us.

“At present, we have a general manager who is honest as the day’s long. He’s amazing. I also have an office manager who is a godsend. Even though I refer to them as my team, in reality they’re my family.

“For a business to succeed, you must also offer your staff a decent work-life balance. I want my people to come to work and be happy. When they’re at home with their family, I hope they forget about work and take the time to relax.”