When Jane and Noel Jesberg purchased The Rix Hotel seven years ago, the building was largely considered the town eyesore. Had it been foretold they would eventually be awarded the Queensland Hotels Association award for the Best Regional Bar and Best Regional Restaurant, there wouldn’t have been many in Charters Towers that would have believed it.
Vacant for approximately 12 months, there were squatters living in the motel, half-drunk schooners on the bar and even Mayor Frank Beveridge and Federal MP Bob Katter thought the Jesbergs were mad for taking on such a project.
“Noel had his eye on it for a while. He saw potential in it,” Jane says.
“I’d heard it was a good business before it closed. I asked a few managers beforehand if it was successful and they said, yeah it was really good but it was run badly,” Noel elaborates.
“When we came in, there were drinks half full at the bar… it was like they’d walked out mid trade.”
With expired stock still in the fridges and rubbish bins overflowing in the gaming room, Noel, who is a third generation publican of Jesberg’s White Horse Tavern, says that it was a matter of weeks before they opened.
“As soon as the liquor licence came through and the gaming licence approval, which was only four or five weeks, we opened as soon as we could. The day we got the licence, we spent two weeks cleaning up before we opened the doors.”
“We just sort of traded as it was. It was messy,” Jane adds.
Over the next five years and shoestring budget of around $700,000, the couple embarked on a slow renovation of the venue beginning with the gaming area, the public bar, the restaurant and are only now renovating the rooms of the motel.
“We had to do a lot of it ourselves. During the start-up phase, it was just my brother and I and some mates,” Noel explains.
“We have also had a lot of support from local builders,” Jane continues.
“Noel did a lot of the initial work himself but I guess we’ve had to do everything on a shoestring because that’s how it started.”
Community support has played a huge part in the success of The Rix, especially when COVID hit on the opening weekend of the newly renovated Beast &Barrel restaurant.
“We did a soft opening on the Friday and by Sunday COVID closed the industry. We were renowned for our cheeseboards, so we did those as takeaway during COVID,” Jane explains.
“We slowly emerged with restricted numbers and were booked out weeks in advance. We will always be grateful for and will never forget the loyal unwavering support and kindness of the incredible community.”
Offering an elevated food experience that is comparable to steakhouses in the bigger cities, The Beast & Barrel sets itself apart, not just from the other eateries in the Towers but from the standard bistro offering of pubs and clubs in Queensland.
“We wanted to be an upper market pub. You can’t compete with the big groups, have a bistro and try to take them on. You’ll just be another pub.” Noel says.
“Of course, there’s a little bit more labour cost involved in doing this style of thing but I think it pays off. A lot of people say you could pick this pub up and put it in Brisbane or Sydney and it’ll still go well. It’s just a small, boutique little pub which I find has more atmosphere.”
Jane adds, “we want to preserve some of that old-fashioned dining etiquette and manners. I think it’s lovely. It creates a nice experience if someone isn’t clearing dishes before the other person has finished. Those old-fashioned mannerisms are part of our success.”
While COVID waves still provide challenges for the industry, particularly in terms of staffing, the Jesbergs have been able to maintain a core group of loyal, hardworking staff. Jane says it all boils down to being kind.
“We include them and give them that responsibility and we’re kind to them. Our biggest ethos is, be kind to customers, be kind to each other and own your mistakes. The biggest lesson I’ve learnt and live by is just own it.
“We’ve created an environment where we do care and we’re mindful, in a small community, that if we don’t give back we can’t expect the support in return. They are the backbone.”
As for the growth of the business, the Jesbergs have just purchased the old Retravision premises in the adjoining lot with tentative plans to expand the floorspace of the pub and restaurant. However, Jane says they are keeping a close eye on two big players, Woolworths and Star Liquor, who are coming to market.
“We’re in a holding pattern at the moment. We want to stay true to our brand because it’s different to what anyone else is likely to do,” continues Jane.
Noel adds, “At the end of the day, the pub game is a big competition anyway. For a small town, eight or nine pubs is a lot, it’s always a worry but we just need to do what we do, well.”