• July 1, 2020

So many businesses, including C&H, have had to rapidly restructure and make major adjustments in a matter of weeks due to COVID-19, and pubs have had one of the hardest jobs. We’re throwing our support behind our local hospitality establishments by letting everyone know that they’re open and highlighting some of the changes and initiatives that have come out of the situation (while reminding people to be patient while businesses adapt and get it right).

As one of Balmain’s oldest and best-loved pubs, The Royal Oak has changed a great deal since it was established in 1874 (or possibly earlier). However, like so many of our favourite local watering holes, it’s never had to change to survive more so than over the past few months. We sat down with publican and owner of 32 years, Maureen Thornett, to discuss how business has altered since lockdown and how she’s dealt with a challenging situation.

Maureen Thornett

“I’ve been in hotels for years. My then partner and I had the Dolphin in Surry Hills decades ago but after getting out of that I really missed the interaction,” says Maureen. “When I bought The Royal Oak I didn’t know Balmain at all but I looked at the local pubs and none of them had really good food and I thought it seemed like a great opportunity. I never imagined I’d be here 32 years later! The area was very working class back then and in the first two weeks here I didn’t see one woman in the pub. Slowly I introduced some female touches like flowers and made sure the language in the bar was kept in check and eventually it changed. The regulars respected me and watched their behaviour. Many patrons from those early days still come back and bring their kids, so there’s a great history here.”

“With regard to COVID-19 we’ve really had to work hard to keep on top of the changing regulations and adhere to them. I feel that people come here because they know me and know I’ll ensure my customers’ safety. I had a layout drawn up by an architect friend so when the new ‘one person per two square metre’ rule came into play we could quickly move furniture and accommodate as many people as legally allowed. Patrons have to be seated at the moment, even in the bar area. I also make sure that I don’t take any bookings for big groups in the bar because it’s really important to me that my regular customers can still drop in at their leisure – after all, they’ve supported us for so long.”

“On the first weekend that we were allowed to open back up, we thought it would be reasonably quiet but it was actually a landslide. People were just so excited to be out and about and catch up with family and friends again, and I think everyone just missed the conviviality of going to the pub! This was wonderful but also challenging because we’d had to lay off some staff, although we’re rebuilding our team now. Our Sunday roasts are busier than ever and interestingly our weekday lunch trade, which used to be fairly quiet, has picked up because so many people are working from home.”

“The community support has been unbelievable. Lockdown has really brought out that sense of neighbourliness and highlighted the incredible camaraderie we have in Balmain, with residents and other businesses helping each other out and sharing the love around. It’s even made the high street come alive again, which I hope continues.”

The Royal Oak is located at 36 College St, Balmain NSW 2041. Book your next meal at 9810 2311

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