Four years ago Adam and Brooke Bantock, temporarily in Murrumbateman after five years in hospitality in Hong Kong and Shanghai, took such a shine to Yass they bought a big weatherboard home and opened a 50-seat bistro, Clementine, now a one-hat restaurant with a rising reputation.
Four years ago, a juice van operator, Sophie Peer, and a coffee van operator, Daniel Neuhaus became friends at markets, festivals and events, decided to open a bricks-and-mortar social enterprise and were joined by scientist and social change-maker Kate MacMaster. They opened Trader and Co, winner of the Yass Business Chamber’s outstanding access and inclusion award.
Still largely reliant on agriculture and companies serving rural enterprise, Yass’s business community has become a more collaborate, inclusive force as it grapples with the positive and negative impacts of Canberra’s spreading growth.
Yass Valley Property principal Andrew Curlewis says Clementine restaurant, and a wine bar and arrival of public servants relocating from Canberra are indicative of the changing nature of the local business community.
In one of NSW’s fastest-growing regions and comprising small towns and villages, Yass Valley Council focuses on Yass and Murrumbateman for growth. Mr Curlewis says this and the town’s character homes appealing to Canberrans are making a difference.
Vice-president of the Yass Valley Business Chamber, Mr Curlewis says their goal to collaborate to invigorate, is working. “On the first Friday of each month, we have a breakfast meeting from 7:30 am to 8:30 am. It’s relaxed, low key, but we are building momentum from the ground up.”
Business chamber president Brad Davis says membership is heading towards 100, almost a 50 per cent increase from 12 months ago. “Yass is a really cool place to do business, it has a good country feel, plus we are on Canberra’s doorstep,” he says.
Annual business awards and getting out to the outlying villages for networking are keeping the chamber’s positive engagement growing, Mr Davis says. He and fellow business people like Sophie Peer see the huge volumes of commuters to Canberra as a blessing and a challenge for local shops.
“Obviously it brings money and that is much needed in a drought where farming is still a huge source of income for locals,” Ms Peer says. “But it also makes it a little disjointed. You have kids going to school in Canberra, you have long commutes, people doing their shopping, their gym or whatever it is in Canberra because they are already there for work. But it also means when people are here they are engaged and looking to relax, enjoy family time or quiet time.”
One of several cafes on the chamber’s meeting circuit, Trader and Co provides free meeting spaces for community groups. “Every cafe talks to each other. We know our opening and closing hours over Christmas and Easter, we make sure someone is open, we don’t see each other as a threat or competition, but as a community service, so we are not all going to close on the same day. And we are all happy to take a break on other days.”
Clementine chef Adam Bantock says having a restaurant means inviting people into what was their loungeroom. “Yass deserves good country hospitality and that’s all we wanted, we wanted something with some humility, some honesty, that’s about it, nothing too flash, just somewhere nice for people to come and eat.”
Fifty per cent of their diners are locals and 50 per cent from Canberra, capital region and travellers on the Sydney to Melbourne route.
Former business chamber president Michael Pilbrow operates a professional services firm in Yass, consulting communities on developer’s behalf, among other services. He has a business partner in Bulli, where they have a second office. “In both cases, we are close enough to Canberra and Sydney, but it is nice to work near home,” he says.
In his previous role as chamber chief, Mr Pilbrow fostered a collegiate culture among businesses, including competitors. The executive team decided not to load up people with committee meetings, but rather get together for social and positive outcomes. “I always say if you get good people in the same room together you don’t know what sparks are going to fly. You can’t predict it, you can’t control it, but it has been proven here – great things happen,” he says.