CLOSED: COVID-19 forces Yamba icon into $500K rethink
THE Henwood family has a new family motto. "To evolve, or dissolve."
Eleven years ago, they sold all their businesses to take a risk in Yamba.
They opened a YHA backpackers in the centre of the Yamba CBD, now recognised as one of the best-performing sites in Australia.
With it, they brought busloads of tourists, including an actual interstate bus, and helped provide millions of dollars to the surrounding economy.
And in the space of a month, it was gone.
As the coronavirus pandemic started in March, they took steps early to help protect only their staff and customers, but the town as well.
"We shut down before nearly every business in Yamba," Justin Henwood said. "We blocked all our booking sites, and we're still closed now."
"There was a lot of fear going around when it started, and we just wanted to shut down to help protect the town and stop that idea that people were coming in."
With the international borders to be closed for what could be the next two years, the family has taken a risk, and closed the backpackers for good, evolving into a new entity.
"It is a sad day, and no one could have seen this coming," Mr Henwood said. "But it is time to evolve, our industry is going to be hit the hardest, and with the loans we have, we can't afford to have no customers for two years."
"We are doing a complete overhaul of our business and will wow our future tourists and our Yamba locals. We are renovating the entire building and will be installing airconditioning to all the room and offering boutique accommodation with double and family en suite rooms, complete kids games room, TV area and outdoor BBQ deck.
The newly revamped accommodation, focusing solely on the domestic market will include a new microbrewery, restaurant, kids play and entertainment areas located on the ground floor.
They are also hoping that a current DA for a large outdoor dining area to bring the locals and tourist together will be approved once travel is permitted.
"We are going to come back bigger and better than before," Mr Henwood said.
"Over the years we have received so much support from our guests, patrons and the Yamba community that we just can't put our tail between our legs and run away."
It is no small investment, with rooms already being redesigned, and the roof of the ground floor already ripped out, Mr Henwood said the total bill was at around $300,000 at the moment and would end up being closer to half a million dollars.
"There's no mucking around, it's a complete rebranding, and we want to be known as a family resort right in the centre of town," Mr Henwood said.
"So you can come, it's five minutes to the beach, we'll still have a surf camp and families can stay for the weekend and book the kids in for surf lessons."
The rebranded accommodation will be known as Yamba Central, with the microbrewery and restaurant, complete with wood-fired pizza and a revamped menu to take the Wobbly Chook name.
"The Wobbly Chook Brewing Co. will have a major focus on the amazing Yamba community and all it has to offer," Mr Henwood said. "We are hoping to use local brands on our beer labels to help promote and market their brands."
"To help the brewery come to fruition, we are offering memberships through to equity crowd-funding options. All profits from the memberships and donations will be put to completing the brewery and getting Yamba its own beer."
It is a bold move in an economic downturn, but the family hope to be up and running to take advantage of an influx of domestic tourism once the restrictions lift.
"There's a lot of big changes, and it is a bit sad, but it's pretty much the only option we've got," Mr Henwood said.
"This place has been the family dream, and as we said, we either had to evolve or dissolve, and we're going to give it a go."
For information on the crowd-funding of the Wobbly Chook, click here, or visit GoFundMe at www.gofundme.com and search for Wobbly Chook Co.