The Tinamba Hotel has a long history in the dairy farming town of Victoria it’s named after. The hotel was first established over 125 years ago, and has evolved considerably in the time since. One of the most significant periods of evolution occurred only four years ago, in 2009, when the business was purchased by owners Brad Neilson and Damien Gannon.
Brad and Damien were both born in the Gippsland region – Brad in Traralgon and Damien in Tinamba. Together, they previously owned Neilsons Restaurant in Traralgon, which they sold early in 2008. Later, after a short stay in St Kilda, they returned to Damien’s hometown of Tinamba and took over the hotel from the Schoenmaker family, who had owned it since 1987.
Under the Schoenmaker’s ownership, the hotel had already undergone significant renovations. When Brad and Damien took over, they closed the hotel and renovated it ever further. Their goal was to make it a “destination location,” Damien says.
“We wanted it to be somewhere where people would travel to,” he explains. “We wanted to emphasise the restaurant, and have people come from everywhere to dine here. That’s what we have achieved.”
Making customers welcome
When Brad and Damien took over the hotel, one of their first orders of business was hiring a team of chefs. At the head of that team was and is their Executive Chef, Paul van Ruiten. He helped evolve the restaurant’s menu and turn the hotel into an upmarket fine dining destination.
Today, the Tinamba Hotel attracts a lot of customers from Melbourne and the surrounding areas. Many of them may be visiting the Gippsland Lakes, and will make a detour off the highway to come to the hotel for lunch. The hotel also gets a lot of day-trippers, who come up from Melbourne during the day to see the local area and end up stopping by the hotel to eat.
According to Damien, the hotel has achieved their “destination” status for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons is their great service. They train their staff thoroughly, teaching them how to provide excellent service, starting with how to properly greet customers. They also instruct them on how to talk about the wine and food, and encourage them to ask customers if they have any questions.
“If a customer asks them something about the menu, our staff can instantly answer,” Damien says. “They can say what wine goes nicely with what. They can also put customers at ease and make them feel welcome, which is all part of the service as well.”
“We just want to see people come in and then walk out the door with a smile on their face,” he adds. “For us, there’s nothing better than that.”
Beyond their exceptional service, another factor that sets the Tinamba Hotel apart is their local focus. Where possible, they source all their produce locally, and promote local wines. They use honey straight from Damien’s family farm, and they also cultivate their own hotel garden which grows fresh herbs and vegetables.
The Tinamba Hotel’s local commitment has not gone unappreciated or unrewarded. Over the years, that commitment has earned the satisfaction and repeat business of many customers, for example. Recently, it also earned them recognition from the 2013 Australian Hotel Association Awards, where they won an accolade for Best Regional Restaurant.
“We’re very proud of that,” Damien says of the recognition. “We’re in such a tiny little town. Only 30 or 40 people live here. So almost everyone who comes here has to travel – which makes it pretty amazing that we could win a national award like that.”
“That’s really, really pleasing for us, and for our staff as well,” he adds. “And it’s not even just for us – it’s for the area as well. It’s for our suppliers, our winegrowers and cheese-makers. We encourage all our customers to try some local products, so the more we sell, the better it is for the people who made those products.”
Damien credits the award success to the strength of those supplier relationships – most of which have lasted many years. Damien and Brad have been dealing with their main supplier, for instance, since they ran their previous restaurant in Traralgon. And many of their wine suppliers are locally based, so they keep in constant, personal contact.
“If they have a new wine or new vintage, they’ll often drop in and ask what we think,” Damien says. “It’s a different kind of relationship, because we’re not dealing with a wholesaler. We’re dealing directly with the producers, so the relationship is very close.”
They also work closely with Maffra Cheeses, a multi-award winning cheese maker based on a local dairy farm in the Gippsland region. Maffra has won several gold medals at Australian dairy competitions, and last year even won an award at the World Cheese Awards in England. Damien and Brad are fortunate enough to deal with their factory directly.
“We just ring them up every week, and go around their factory and collect it,” Damien says. “And if they do something different, like make a new choose, they’ll ring us up and ask what we think and what our customers think.”
“So us winning an award, and getting some attention, isn’t just about us, it’s about companies like them as well,” Damien adds. “It’s about the area. If we can get people to come to us to eat and then spend some time in the area and spend a few dollars, then it’s all been very worthwhile.”
For more information, please visit their website at: Tinamba Hotel
Preferred Vendor of Choice: