Sharon Dwyer is determined to revive the Winsome Hotel and invite the public back through its once-popular doors with a new monthly restaurant called The Winsome Café.
Sharon and her team did a test run last weekend to fine tune their menu and make sure everything was running smoothly before opening the doors to the public next Saturday, March 10.
With the support of Lismore Soup Kitchen president Mieke Bell, Sharon and her husband, musician John Gift, want to bring people back to the venerable old hotel.
"What I really wanted to do in the beginning was run a café downtown and employ people from the Soup Kitchen who had skills and talent in food and customer service," she said. "But it was way too expensive, so Mieke and I brainstormed and realised we already had the best venue right here!"
While the Winsome operates as an alcohol-free soup kitchen by day, Sharon said people should make no mistake that by the time The Winsome Café opens the place will be completely transformed with fine food and live entertainment on offer and people can BYO wine or beer to share with friends over dinner.
She said they had 60 people for the test run and while it was "a bit stressful at first", they soon found their rhythm and the night was a roaring success.
"We had one lady bring a whole bunch of greenery and flowers, and she just went to town, and we had lights with butterflies and dragonflies - it was a really cosy atmosphere," Sharon said. "Plus next time we'll also have the outdoor verandah space. We really want people to bring their friends and enjoy being back at the Winsome, and we're also open to doing functions like birthdays or receptions where we can cater for the event."
Musician John Gift was enthused about the test run and said when you perform for a good cause (all profits go back to the Lismore Soup Kitchen) it creates a vibe amongst musicians you don't always find at paid gigs. He would love to hear from any musos who could give their time for future events.
"It was sensational - there was a really genuine feeling with everyone here to support the place, and Horace Bevan and Dean Peachy turned up to play as well. It was just awesome," he said. "Realistically the Winsome was the best venue in town but it hasn't been the right time to use it as an entertainment venue until now. We thought 'let's open it up, put on some good food and music, and help raise some money'."
Sharon has volunteered at the Winsome for nearly three years and said she's put together a crack team of volunteers and clients who she hopes will go on to find employment, or if the restaurant proves popular and opens more regularly, can stay on and work.
"I've been here a while and now I know the people who have the talent and the passion and the creativity to pull it off," Sharon said. "I have loved being here and I feel part of these people's lives… I've always felt cooking here was not just about filling their bellies but giving them healthy food."
She said her own cooking's improved markedly and is confident diners won't be disappointed.
"My husband keeps telling me we don't need to go out to dinner anymore," she laughed.
The Winsome Café will open for dinner on Saturday, March 10, from 6pm with music by Norm and Kathy Bell plus special guest Dean Peachy. Bookings are essential. Phone Sharon on 0447 224 205 or if you're a musician and would like to lend your help in the future, phone John on 0417 409 966.