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The Dying Art of the Publican


When Nikki & Ryan met each other back in 2009 as managers of Northies Hotel in Cronulla, they were drawn together by their mutual goal of one day operating their own hotel.  Already 2 career hospitality tragics and no existing pubs in the family to leverage, the sheer financial ambitiousness didn't deter them from working towards that goal.  There's always lotto.

Nikki spent the next 10 years at the helm of the wonderful historic hotels of Balmain.  Real crackers like The Exchange Hotel, The Riverview Hotel, The Balmain Hotel and the late, Town Hall Hotel.  Her first licensee role was at the age of 24 where she excelled in the casual as well as fine dining space, potting multiple AHA awards built around the quality of food, service and overall warmth that no self-respecting pub can live without.  She was made for the publican life.

Ryan on the other hand deviated toward the entertainment and business development aspect of the hospitality world.  In the process, he went on to launch a handful of bars across Australia and New Zealand and potted a handful of awards in the festival, nightclub and tourism space. He still holds onto the learnings he picked up along the way when trying to navigate the uni kids of Wollongong in 2022.  Though, it's ambitious to think that anything could prepare you for this.

Now with 36 years of hospitality experience between them, a young family and a fresh move to beautiful Shellharbour, 2019 was time to execute their end game by putting a lifetime of thrills and spills into delivering the South Coast a classic publican experience.  Not the modern age publican who's validated by state pokie rankings and how many pub assets are in the portfolio.  They wanted to break the mould and put purpose first and profits second.  The old-world style of pubs had a deep meaning to the community, not just their equity fund managers.

In 2019, the couple was presented with a 'renovator's dream' in the form of Hotel Illawarra.  A beautiful, art deco facade, with a struggling business model of nightclub/student bar on the inside.  To them, it was the ultimate low-hanging fruit, as it was situated in Wollongong's growing CBD which had a severe lack of pubs that looked outside of the university market.  The deal was done and The Illawarra we born.

Now, they're living their end game of authentically living the publican life.  It's still early days but they're loving becoming integral parts of the Wollongong community as they constantly find new as well as classic ways of taking the money the community invests in them and making it pay dividends to the community.


There are so many plans.  Luckily, there's plenty of time to make them a reality.  It's a journey you're all invited on.

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