Someone who’s observed this transformation up close is Maureen Thornett, owner of Royal Oak Balmain. Maureen says, “When I bought Royal Oak in 1988, I didn’t know the area. I visited every hotel on the peninsula and none of them had particularly good food so offering great service and excellent food seemed like an opportunity.”
Back then, Balmain was working class and pubs were men’s territory. In her first few weeks of service Maureen didn’t see one woman in the pub. “I wanted a pub for everyone and once I added a woman’s touch and made sure the language in the bar was kept in check, things started to change.”
Royal Oak is one of the oldest pubs in the area and many patrons from those early days still come back bringing their kids and grandkids. “Catering to a changing demographic is part of the challenge but if someone would’ve told me back then that we’d have to supply highchairs and change tables I would’ve laughed at them.” The pub has survived recessions, Balmain’s evolution into a family mecca and two lockdowns. “You have to persevere and move with the times but also resist the urge to change to suit the latest fad.”
“To succeed in this industry requires a lot of commitment. 30 years as a hotelier can take its toll, but I’m fortunate to come from a family that is strong, loyal, and understands the importance of never giving up. Without their support I wouldn’t have lasted.” Maureen’s youngest daughter Sophie works alongside her and they’re both overwhelmed by the support the community showed during the latest lockdown. “With patrons like that I can probably go on for another 30 years” says Maureen with her signature smile.