Merivale CEO Justin Hemmes has spent $30 million to $40 million on Narooma properties this year and is predicting the town will one day rival Noosa as a holiday paradise.
Travel writer Fiona Carruthers interviewed Hemmes for the Australian Financial Review on Saturday. She noted: “The Sapphire Coast [has] long played second-fiddle to the North Coast with its siren call of Byron Bay. But the South Coast is now punching, bouncing back stronger than ever post COVID-19 and the devastating fires of 2019-20. With the likes of designer Collette Dinnigan and hotelier husband Bradley Cocks, chef Rick Stein, and airport supremo Terry Snow in situ, the area has significant clout, and increasingly beautiful venues, including Cupitt’s Estate at Milton and Shoalhaven Head’s Bangalay Villas.”
Enter Hemmes, whose love affair with Narooma began in 2015 when he bought beachfront house in the town for a reported $7.5 million. In March, his company Merivale acquired its first hospitality venue outside Sydney – The Quarterdeck in Narooma.
Set on the shores of Forsters Bay, The Quarterdeck (above) has been an institution in the Eurobodalla community for decades. Originally an oyster grower’s shed, it has been operating as a Tiki bar for the past 20 years. Local identities Chris and Robyn Scroggy converted it from a fish-and-chip shop to one of the region’s top dining destinations.
“Narooma has become my second home and the backdrop to so many of my happiest memories with my family,” Hemmes said. “I think it is one of the most beautiful spots in the world, with a unique landscape, crystal clear waters and an amazing community of people who call it home. It has been an absolute privilege to spend so much time here over the past six years and I’m excited to now join the local business community.
“One of the silver linings to come out of the last year is a heightened appreciation for our own backyard, an excitement to explore our spectacular country and its coastline. We are so lucky to call Australia home.”
In June, Merivale purchased of The Whale Inn (above), a boutique hotel and restaurant in Narooma. The Whale Inn is situated in a prime location on 3474 sqm with outstanding views of the inlet and beaches. It has 17 individually-appointed rooms and suites, as well as the 48-seat The Whale restaurant and bar.
The sale of the freehold going concern was handled by ResortBrokers’ NSW South Coast Specialists Russell Rogers and Sarah Hutchins at an undisclosed price.
“This is really positive news for the south coast accommodation sector, with a company of the size of Merivale showing faith in what is an outstanding motel in a fantastic region,” Rogers said.
For the past 15 years, the late Matthew Deveson OAM and his wife Jen owned the business, championing local produce. Sadly, Deveson lost a battle with cancer earlier this year. Hemmes said his legacy would continue.
“Matt was a true gentleman; a man of great kindness and dignity who truly loved Narooma and the wonderful people who call it home,” he said. “It is an honour for us to continue Matt and Jen’s legacy.”
In August, Chez Dominique, a farm-to-table pop-up bistro opened at The Whale. It’s being run by a French-Australian couple whose resumes include Paris eateries Septime and Le Saint Eutrope. They also ran their own Parisian bistro, La Vierge, in the 20th arrondissement and worked at one of Sydney’s most celebrated wine bars, 10 William St.
Narooma locals have expressed concerns about Hemmes’ plans for their sleepy town, but Narooma Chamber of Commerce and Tourism president Dr Jenny Munro told Narooma News the business community welcomed Hemmes.
“After bushfires, COVID and Matt’s untimely death, I think this is a real blessing,” she said.
“I think he will be doing some wonderful changes and I believe he will be respectful for what the community stands for. Merivale will have the resources to do something special. I have seen what they did with Newport Arms Hotel, transforming it from a grotty place to something so beautiful.”
Hemmes said Narooma locals don’t need to be concerned about his plans for his new properties.
“It’s more about developing these venues in line with the feel of the town, and giving both locals and travellers more choice in the venues they can enjoy,” he concluded.