Shoalhaven Ex-Services Group (SESG) has partnered with Ponte Bar and Dining to take over the catering operations of The Growers Restaurant located at the Worrigee Sports Club.

SESG CEO Bernie Brown told Club Management that he is hopeful partnering with Ponte Bar and Dining will help revitalise the restaurant, now operating as The Growers by Ponte, into what it once when it was first opened in November 2020. 

“When we first opened Growers, we saw significant support from the local community and visitors to the region. In the first six months we had welcomed over 40,000 diners and it looked to be a huge success,” he said.

“Unfortunately, the second COVID lockdown restrained our momentum and we never really recovered from that to operate the Growers as a viable and profitable revenue stream.

“Although we understand the diversity and intangible benefit to the wider operation, the board made the wise decision to hibernate the eatery in February this year and seek a suitable contractor to reinvigorate and reinvent the Growers space.”

Despite a lull in the restaurant’s operation, Brown said SESG received 37 expressions of interest during the tender process. He believes it signals that the venue “presents to a high standard and maintains a strong brand presence”.

From early August, the venue will see the introduction of a new menu, with an emphasis on sustainable practices in all aspects of the restaurant’s operations including sourcing local ingredients to minimise waste. 

“Whilst Ponte Bar and Dining have been known for a fine dining experience, they are also mindful of expanding and meeting the market with choice, variety and quality,” Brown said.

“Expect gastro pub style with flair from executive chef Sam Smith, who was recently judged amongst the top four chefs in the Food Service Australia competition earlier this year. The smokehouse will fire up again too providing variety on weekends.

“Ponte are also famous for their specialty and themed events such as Brazilian BBQ, Mexican brunches and Italian feasts. Sommelier and owner Thiago is keen to showcase a variety of local and imported wines, including a strong cellar reserve selection for those after a special bottle to enjoy with their meal.”

Brown pointed out how food standards in clubs have changed significantly over the last few decades, and believes the new iteration of the Growers will be reflective of this.

“The transformation has been amazing over the 30 years I have worked in the industry. I think there have been a number of factors at play including consumer/Club member demand for variety, being on-trend, quality and dining experience, competition from the hotel sector, restaurants and Cafes, a growing acceptance and realisation from Clubs that food can contribute to the overall revenue mix,” he said.

“Additionally, some very experienced and talented chefs and operators have partnered with Clubs realising the potential and opportunities that are present. The introduction of promotional competitions and Awards more recently the Chefs Table and Perfect Plate have also helped the Club sector shine a light on culinary excellence and breaking down prejudices that may still exist around the Club food product.”

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