Moments from the beach and drenched in rich history, Freshwater’s iconic Harbord Hotel is a true Northern Beaches fixture, as vital to the landscape as the sandy beach, palm trees and salty ocean air. With nearly a century of memories and surf culture stories to tell, the laid-back yet refined local pub has beckoned visitors far and wide to brush off the sand and come inside for a taste of fun times, fantastic food and good vibes.
So when an opportunity arose to take ownership of this beachside legend in 2020, locals Glenn Piper and Lachlan Cottee leaped at the chance. “I lived in Freshwater for many years and always found myself drawn to the beautiful architecture of the hotel and how it sits so prominently in the heart of Freshwater,” shares Glenn, the venue’s Publican and Director. “Beyond the architecture, I was really taken by its significance within the community and its rich history. I wanted to be a part of that heritage.”
It was built in 1928 and had been in the loving hands of its previous owners for 42 years. “They built an incredible legacy for the venue over those four decades,” he says. “However, I could see that its offering had become a little tired, but its potential was enormous. So, the idea of me, personally, crafting an offering for my local watering hole excited me.
What initially began as a simple idea to own the hotel quickly developed into a desire, something I really wanted to fulfil.”
In February, the “Harbord Hilton”, as the locals call it, was theirs. It was a promising and exciting time, as Glenn and Lachlan laid out plans to refresh the beachside hangout. Then March came, bringing the COVID-19 pandemic and heaps of uncertainty with it. “It was obviously the most challenging period I’ve ever experienced,” he recalls.
However, there was a silver lining. Glenn and his partner had been planning a refurbishment of the property anyway, so with a forced closure, the pandemic presented the perfect opportunity to fast-track things. “The plan was to complete the refurbishments during the time of forced closure, so by the time restrictions eased, we’d be able to come out of the pandemic in a tremendous position, considering the circumstances,” he shares.
Glenn took on the project management of the entire development, nurturing it all the way through to completion. And the results were impressive. “We completed it in an extraordinary time frame in a space of six months. And it’s something we were only able to achieve by bringing together such a good team of people,” he points out.
“We exist to create memorable experiences for our guests.”
That included the town planner, the builder, contractors, subcontractors, plumbers and more. “Everyone had to really work together. And I feel like the team, even though we all have our own interests, was really aligned on getting this project finished quickly, so it could open when restrictions eased. It was a lot of hard work, but it was rewarding.”
It was also a rewarding experience to be able to make a positive difference for the community in such a difficult time. “It was great to proactively create something positive that kept people employed,” Glenn beams. “It truly was a nice experience.”
He also credits the team at Finch Projects for how smoothly it all went down. “I couldn’t find any other company in its field that could produce joinery bars of the same quality. I just couldn’t find anyone better. Finch Projects was great to work with,” he says. “As a whole, hospitality has so many components to it. There are a lot of moving pieces, and you need expertise from a wide range of parties to execute well.”
It’s imperative to have a strong cultural foundation too, as Glenn believes customers can feel the difference. “Culture is everything,” he stresses. “From the moment patrons walk into the venue, they need to feel like they want to be there. And a lot of that comes from the front-of- house staff and how they’re greeting our guests and the service they’re providing.
“The staff are only willing to go above and beyond if the culture is good. We work hard to make sure that our people are well connected; that everyone is getting along and getting what they need. They have a clear path of progression as well, so they know they’re working towards something. It’s crucial.”
“From the moment patrons walk into the venue, they need to feel like they want to be there.”
In hospitality, every customer experience matters. And at the Harbord Hotel, delivering remarkable experiences is its specialty. “We exist to create memorable experiences for our guests,” Glenn says. “We want to be the home for people to come back to after a day at the beach. They can come in with no shoes on, brush off the sand and hang out while experiencing beach culture at its best.
For the hotel, that means a rotating, seasonal menu, showcasing the area’s most flavourful produce, meats and seafood in new and unexpected ways. It also means continually developing the strength of the team, so the service is always on point. And it means creating an atmosphere of community.
“Hospitality is always evolving, and that means our offering needs to evolve with it,” Glenn reveals. “For us, music is an important pillar of our offering, and we wish to develop it more and more as COVID-19 restrictions continue to ease by bringing some of Australia’s most in-demand artists right here to Freshwater. The idea is to offer this, which is something the Northern Beaches hasn’t really had for a very long time, to our guests all within walking distance of their homes and in an intimate setting. It’s something we’re really passionate about.”
In the end though, it’s all about creating the next chapter for Freshwater’s most iconic beachside venue; keeping it alive and thriving as many other businesses have unfortunately had to shut their doors. “We really saw the opportunity to get this world-class hospitality offering that would align with other local businesses and bring back the vibrancy that Freshwater once had,” Glenn says. “I wanted to create a venue where locals of all ages and all backgrounds could come and discover great tastes, sounds and vibes. That’s really what we’re aiming to achieve.”
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