Clare Valley chef Guy Parkinson believes that you should do something “completely stupid” at least once in your life.
He speaks from experience, having moved from Newcastle to Clare in 2014, with then-partner Candice Leighton, for no particular reason, “apart from that we just loved the region and saw the potential in Clare”.
“We were here for three or four days and thought the place was lovely. We saw a For Lease sign in the front window of an 1880s chaff mill and thought it could be a restaurant. Not exactly a lot of market research done, but we just gave it a crack. Would I do it again? Probably not, it’s terrifying.”
They nurtured Seed Winehouse + Kitchen into a popular farmhouse restaurant with a cocktail bar that “brought the gin and tonic to Clare”.
Although their restaurant lasted, their relationship didn’t, and yet Parkinson and Leighton have remained “great mates” and business partners. With a long-held vision to build Seed into something more, they’ve also teamed up with local builder Sam MacDonald and Sam Maitland of Pangkarra Foods.
When the town’s former Commonwealth Bank building came up for sale, “probably the ugliest building on the main street”, Parkinson felt he might be trying his luck by making a second “stupid” decision.
“The Commonwealth Bank moved out and left this horrible eyesore,” he says. “It’s a 1970s red-brick building; it’s ugly. Keep in mind you’ve got these gorgeous sandstone buildings around it,” he says.
“My business partner, Sam MacDonald, and I organised to go through the site one afternoon. I hated it because I couldn’t see past the external walls and how ugly it was, but Sam loved it and bought it that day.
“Sam is a builder, but he’s also a fabulous designer, so he had a vision. It’s amazing what he’s done – turned the ugliest building on Clare’s main street into hopefully one of the most exciting, modern, and prettiest.”
They closed Seed Winehouse + Kitchen in January this year to start renovations on the bank, meanwhile operating a takeaway pop-up Seed Street Diner.
To help the beautification of the building, street artist EJ Zyla was commissioned to create a mural enveloping the entire structure. Part-funded by the Clare and Gilbert Valleys Council, the artwork has alleviated Parkinson’s misgivings about the building’s facade. “It looks incredible now,” he says.
The interior has been gutted and refit with reclaimed red brick and polished concrete, softened with timbers that include the original Oregon beams.
Formerly Seed Winehouse + Kitchen, the new business is simply called Seed. The ethos of relaxed regional dining will remain, yet the offering will be diversified across the business’ three arms: a restaurant, rooftop bar, and delicatessen.
The opening of each section will be staggered, starting with the rooftop, which will open in February.
“The idea to drop in a rooftop bar was possibly a bit of a joke at first, and then Sam – the builder – solidified the fact that he could do it,” says Parkinson.
“We’ll certainly get the rooftop bar open as soon as possible, because that’s what people are champing at the bit for. It will be very relaxed, approachable and family-friendly. We don’t want it to be seen as just a cocktail bar, although it certainly will be later in the evening. We’ve always tried to encompass all demographics as much as we possibly can.”
The rooftop will serve wood-fired Napoli-style pizza and bar food, later at night flipping into a cocktail bar. A wine room is being built into the bank’s original vault.
Parkinson and head chef Louis Ritchie are creating a menu that will celebrate simple, local produce with a European twist.
“It will certainly be Seed in terms of its level of service, but somewhere that anyone can hang out and enjoy the views and the food. It will be very relaxed with no pretentiousness, but with good service and lovely glassware.”
Along with the pizza, the custom-built wood oven will produce fresh bread and pastries to be sold in the daytime delicatessen.
“That artisan butchery and smallgoods providore is something we really want to get ticking along,” says Parkinson.
“This vision has really come about from trying to protect what is, in my mind, a very exposed industry – regional hospitality. For quite a few years I’ve been thinking about diversifying our regional model.
“If there are no tourists because of a bushfire, a flood, or the stock market’s plummeted, all sorts of things affect your demographic input.”
With its own mixologist, Seed Winehouse + Kitchen was one of the first to introduce the concept of an urban-inspired small bar to Clare, and has since caught on with others that have followed suit.
“Clare’s on fire at the moment. Just in the past three or four years, there have been some really significant steps in the industry, and some strong investment in the hospitality sector here.”
Parkinson emphasises that there will be nothing pretentious about Seed.
“Our worst nightmare would be for Seed to be seen as a special occasion venue or the rooftop bar as a fancy cocktail bar. It will take everyone a while to get their head around it and hopefully it works.
“One thing’s for sure, people will certainly go up to the rooftop to drink and eat.”
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