To understand why Graze at the Willow Tree Inn has won the Australian Hotels Association’s (AHA) award for the best steak in NSW for the last three years, you have to start at the beginning.
In 2005, Charles and Cheryl Hanna purchased a 6,000-acre cattle property in Willow Tree to fulfil their family’s dream of owning a piece of country in North West NSW to run a commercial herd of Black Angus cattle. The property they purchased was an aggregation of two properties, known as ‘Colly Creek’ and ‘Plain View’. The existing cattle herd on the property at that time was a mixture of various breeds, so it was decided to replace them with purebred Black Angus.
In a chance meeting at a restaurant in Nundle, Charles met Greg Chappell, who, together with his wife Sally, owns Dulverton Angus based just outside of Glen Innes. A deal was struck at that meeting, sealed with a handshake and an informal note written on the back of a drink coaster, for Charles to purchase 50 Dulverton heifers each year for the next three years. It was these females from Dulverton that became the basis of Colly Creek’s quality Angus herd, together with bulls purchased from Wattletop Angus at Guyra.
Four years later, an opportunity arose to acquire the Willow Tree Inn at Willow Tree. The hotel had seen better days and needed a complete renovation and rebuild to house Charles and Cheryl’s vision of a vertically integrated steak restaurant. This gave them the opportunity to market their top-quality Colly Creek Angus beef at a retail level, through the new restaurant to be known as Graze at the Willow Tree Inn.
Both Graze Restaurant and Colly Creek Pastoral Company have won numerous awards and accolades including ‘Best Steak Venue’ and ‘Best Country Restaurant’ from the AHA and, in April this year, Colly Creek was placed in the top 15 out of 4,400 meat producers in NSW who consign cattle to the Meat Standards Australia (MSA) Program.
It’s the combination of the award-winning Colly Creek beef and Graze Restaurant’s excellent reputation that attracts patrons from all over NSW and interstate.
When asked how the team at Graze set the restaurant and pub apart from a crowded market, Charles replies, “All of our staff are encouraged to connect with our customers in a friendly, professional manner with country hospitality. This genuine approach not only applies to our Graze wait staff, but also to the bar and housekeeping staff. Our team takes pride in providing local knowledge and information to our customers travelling through Willow Tree. We tend to employ young wait staff who we feel can easily embrace our company ethos.”
It is obvious that Graze Restaurant only employs chefs that are passionate about their profession and what they deliver from the kitchen each and every day. It’s one thing to have a great piece of Colly Creek award-winning beef, but it must also be cooked to perfection. The day-to-day operations of Graze and the Willow Tree Inn are overseen by Tim Muschamp as hotel manager and Sabi Pabla as head chef. Charles and Cheryl’s children, Sam and Jodie, are equally as dedicated to the long-term success of the paddock to plate operation, that is Colly Creek and Graze.
To accommodate a growing number of out of town customers, Charles and Cheryl have created 16 luxury rooms and suites at the Willow Tree Inn. Every room has been tastefully decorated with furnishings that are reminiscent of an English or French country house.
To further the true paddock to plate experience, Graze Restaurant now also obtain all lamb supplies from their Willow Tree property, only two kilometres away from the restaurant. This surely must be the smallest carbon footprint of any rural producer.
The future for Graze Restaurant and the Willow Tree Inn looks exciting with a management team that are focused on providing the very best in food quality, country hospitality and service.