24 June 2021

Iona Gardens Cafe and Nursery owners hang up their aprons after 21 years

| Hannah Sparks
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Iona Gardens Cafe and Nursery

Iona Gardens Cafe and Nursery in Dalgety will change hands at the end of June 2021. Photo: Iona Gardens Cafe and Nursery Facebook.

If you need to post a letter or you fancy a Devonshire tea among the perennials, Iona Gardens Cafe and Nursery in Dalgety, NSW, is the place to visit. It has been popular with locals and tourists for the past 21 years.

But owners Julie and Ross Pearson have decided to hang up their aprons, put away their secateurs and retire.

The couple started the business on the banks of the Snowy River in 2000, and have kept the doors open seven days a week ever since.

It was a way for Julie to earn an income while her eldest son went to school in town, and the business grew from there.

At the time, Julie had given birth to her second son and didn’t envisage starting the business for at least 12 months.

However, when her youngest was just three months old, the local post office and general store in town decided to close.

As essential services, there was an urgent need for someone to take them over and Julie stepped in.

Julie and Ross run a ski lodge in Thredbo and had worked in restaurants and cafes previously, so they had a fair idea of what they wanted their business to look like.

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They turned the cottage that was built for the manager of the Horse and Jockey Inn across the road into a cafe, and the butcher’s shop at the end of the garden path into a nursery.

Many of the herbs and perennials for sale can be viewed in the cottage garden.

There is also a range of gifts and homewares for sale and the essential grocery items stocked in the corner store are often purchased by campers and holidaymakers staying at the local caravan park.

Julie is a passionate advocate for her town. From in-store she offers information about the Dalgety Historic Town and River Walk and the popular drive between Jindabyne, Dalgety and Berridale.

These initiatives and the Dalgety Chamber of Commerce were started by Julie and Ross in a bid to attract more tourists to town.

“Those are really popular outings for people because they’re free and family-friendly,” says Julie.

The couple will continue to live in the old Dalgety House across the road from the cafe and nursery, but they are excited to have more freedom to travel now their sons have left home.

“I’m nearly 60 and Ross is 68,” says Julie. “It’s time to stop working seven days a week.”

However, Ross and Julie will stick around while the new owner, Barry ‘Baz’ McGrath, settles in.

Baz is a chef and has been working between Dalgety and Queensland for the past few years.

Now he’s ready to settle into Dalgety with his two teenage children, and he has some exciting food-related plans for the business.

“He’ll keep doing the homemade cakes we offer, the post office and groceries for locals and campers, and Ross will help Baz with the nursery,” says Julie. “So not much will change except for a few ideas Baz has on the food front.”

Between the lodge in Thredbo, the cafe and nursery, and their holiday rental in Tathra on the NSW Sapphire Coast, Ross and Julie have experienced a tough 12-18 months thanks to the Black Summer bushfires and COVID-19.

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However, Julie says business has never been better of late.

“Last year was really, really hard and we probably got half the trade we normally get in Thredbo,” she says. “At least we got that, I suppose, but it was a lot more work for a lot less money, and we’re still on a knife’s edge because all our customers come from Sydney.

“But out here, we were still doing takeaways and kept the post office open as it’s an essential service. Then by September [2020] we were busier than ever.

“Now is a great time to be taking over because no-one can go overseas. People are travelling around the region and if you’re here, they’re coming.”

Baz officially takes over the business at the end of June, but will be onsite to help with the handover from Saturday, 26 June.

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