Walking through the doors of 100 Smith Street, the smell one notices is not what one would expect from an old car wash.
Instead, the faint smell of fertilizer is present, a clue to the transformation of the site.
Ryan Aitchison, publican at the Illawarra Hotel, has taken the keys to the light industrial land and turned it into a farm and distillery, to supply his pub, smells and all.
Already the small plot of land provides a good portion of the pub’s cuisine with herbs such as basil, parsley, cos lettuce, chives and tomatoes.
To the rear, the final touches to a chicken coop are being finalized and soon – pending DA approval, the site will start producing spirits for the pub.
Rather than being Wollongong’s last winery or brewery, Smiths Street Distillery and Vinery, as it’s known, aims to reduce waste, create a more sustainable product for The Illawarra punters and a unique recruitment tool.
“We buy $500,000 a year in spirits, mostly vodka and gin, so if we produce our own we save a huge chunk,” Mr Aitchison said.
“We thought we could bank the savings or invest them in creating something the community would love and lead by example in sustainability.”
Working with advice from GreenConnect, organic waste produced in the pub kitchen will be turned into fertilizer for the farm and grain used in the brewing process will be given to farmers for finishing livestock before it is served in steaks.
“Nothing is wasted,” Mr. Aitchison said.
“A staff member and I went down a rabbit hole and it took us to the same crazy places.”
One of the places that ended up leading was passion fruit. According to Mr Aitchison, the only adequate passion fruit liqueur available is produced internationally and passion fruit cocktails are increasingly popular.
“We have the capacity to produce everything here because passion fruit grows like crazy and produces fruit all year round,” he said.
As well as coming full circle on spirits and produce at the pub, Mr Aitchison has found the idea of growing his own food and drink has energized his staff.
At a time when the hospitality industry is facing a severe shortage of staff, the offer to tend vines between shifts behind the bar or grow herbs outside the kitchen has attracted talent.
“We just found a great chef, in a time when no one seems to because she loves gardening and the idea of being able to grow her own food,” Mr Aitchison said.
Ultimately, Mr Aitchison said he wanted the whole of Wollongong to benefit.
“It’s really cool to live in a city where you can walk down the street and eat cool stuff. I think it will add to the Wollongong experience.”
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The story Urban farm and distillery sprung up in Wollongong city center first appeared on Mercury of Illawarra.