Denise Ryan and husband Steve moved their family of 5 children to Urunga 21 years ago after purchasing the Anchors Wharf Cafe. “We had been owners/managers of the Tathra Hotel for 10 years when we found this little advert in the Sydney Morning Herald advertising Anchors Wharf Cafe. The rest is history,” says Denise.
Anchors Wharf Cafe is an Urunga institution. For residents of the Bellingen Shire it is the ‘go-to’ for special occasions. And its standing in the community is due in no small way to the energy and enthusiasm of owner Denise. But Denise’s hard work extends a lot further than her business. Her recent Australia Day nomination for Bellingen Shire’s Citizen of the Year is testament to her dedication for both the local community and for those in need on a much broader scale.
Rod took the opportunity to share a coffee and chat with Denise on the eve of Australia Day.
You have been the driving force in raising more than $24,000 in 2018 for farmers in dire need because of drought and fire. What has inspired you to work so hard for this cause?
Both Steve and I have lived most of our lives in the bush. We know how hard life can be and the effects of protracted drought on a community. This is a cause very close to my heart. The Urunga community has supported my efforts. Last year I organised one fundraiser in only 5 days and due to local generosity raised $10,000 for our old community of Tathra.
Working with our extraordinary Urunga Lions Club we also raised another $10,000 last September for Australian farmers impacted by the ongoing drought.
I’m now promoting the sale of the Beach to Bush Calendar. A group of women from Carinda in far North West NSW were brave enough to don their bathing suits for the calendar shoot- all in the name of raising money for drought affected farmers doing it so tough.
All of this whilst running such a successful cafe. Do you have a lot of help?
The cafe really is a family affair. All of our children have worked in the business. They have attained many skills, which have helped them in future roles. And two of our sons are currently working with us. Joey is the Head Chef and Daniel works wherever he is needed most.
Did you and Steve always work in the food industry?
Not always. Steve and I actually met in Wagga, where he was at the Agriculture College and I was training as a teacher. After working in the agriculture sector for a few years, Steve resigned and began a “Hot Chick” BBQ chicken business with his family in Griffith and a second store in Orange.
My first teaching appointment was to Orange Public School and then I was appointed teacher-in-charge of Summerhill Creek School with 12 children.
In 1986 we left Orange and moved to Tathra to own and manage the Tathra Hotel for the next 10 years. So we do have quite a long history in the food industry!
Does Anchors Wharf Cafe have a signature dish?
The seafood platters are very popular. Always a crowd pleaser.
Why do you think the Cafe is such a success?
We do serve the freshest of seafood in the most beautiful Kalang River setting. I love the river. It’s so peaceful sitting and watching life slowly passing by. The pristine condition of the river is a credit to the council and the community for their vigilant care.
We also have fabulous Friday night entertainment which draws the crowds. Sandy Clark, Paul & Barney (Old School Rock) and Heath from South West Rocks are some of the local favourite performers.
We also have the talents of Tenori perform every year. These tenors are part of the original “Ten Tenor” fame. So we feel very fortunate to be able to welcome them each year to Urunga. The next Tenori performance will be Saturday 16th February.
Our 12-seater BBQ pontoon boat is also popular. People can hire her to cruise around the river system. It has a BBQ on board as well as a toilet. You can take whatever food and drinks you like. It’s a great day out with family and friends.
I gather you love being a part of the Urunga community?
Urunga is such a special place. We are blessed to have so many proactive residents. There are so many people willing to help improve and maintain the services of this beautiful little town.
The Urunga Myelstom Chamber of Commerce is fabulous. Steve Allan and Jo Brotherton are excellent in their management and leadership of the Chamber. The contribution from many of the local businesses and residents is always positive and assiduous. Urunga has much to thank them for.
Your best memory of childhood was?
For me my fondest childhood memories are the visits to mum’s family farm at Gunning Gap near Forbes. We were such adventurers with many sheds and paddocks to explore.
For Steve his best childhood memory was the annual camping visit to Bermagui.
Your best sporting moment was?
I played Softball in Orange when I was teaching. One year I managed to be awarded the Best & Fairest (B grade) for our team and the zone competition. It was the only time I received a sporting award.
What would you like to be remembered for?
I would like to be remembered for being a good mum. A mum that has exposed her children to the wonders of this world and in doing so nurtured compassion, understanding and tolerance of difference, with a yearning to explore the horizons.
What are you reading right now?
I don’t get to read novels unless I’m on holidays! So my reading material at the moment is the “Get Lost” magazines. I love travel magazines and books!
What are you listening to right now?
My daughter bought me Apple Airbuds for Christmas. So I take them and the dog for walks listening to Spotify playlists. I really enjoy the 80’s. Jerry Rafferty’s Baker Street is a must every day!
What really annoys you?
There are a few things that really annoy me. People that don’t pick up their dog poop! That’s got to be number 1.
How do you relax?
Walking and yoga.
Favourite holiday destination & why?
Last year I ticked off an item on my Bucket List and went to Patagonia. It was brilliant! We (my intrepid group of 5 fellow mountain goats!) trekked many kilometres thru the Andes. It was so stunning and pristine.
Later, Steve joined me and we travelled for two weeks through Argentina. The diversity of this country- the colours, the Malbec and the best beef steak you can find – all amazing! I’d go back in a heartbeat. But then I’ve never been anywhere I wouldn’t return.
Our two daughters live in USA, so we visit there regularly. This year we are heading over there in June and will explore the Zion NP and Bryce Canyon NP, then head over to Charleston and Savannah to get a taste of “Gone with the Wind” days. We are having a few days in Nashville with my daughter’s friends. The girls will accompany us on most of this trip.
In the Movie Anchorsgate, whom would you play?
I would have to be the Queen.