Hospitality-lifer, Kim Starkey chats about life in pubs and her love of hospitality.

The driving force behind some of Newcastle’s most iconic watering holes and live music venues, Kim Starkey has spent a lifetime perfecting the art of hospitality and hotel life. 

Introduced to the pub scene at a very early age, it was during those impressionable years Kim subconsciously absorbed her parents' hard working ethic and forward-thinking business acumen. 

The ultimate conversationalist, Kim is always up for a challenge, and has faced many, learning to adapt quickly and move on. For our International Women’s Day Series, Kim recounts her pub journey and her step into the small bar/restaurant scene. Here’s our chat…

Kim you’ve grown up in pubs, your mum and dad have a legacy of over 40 years of pub ownership in the Hunter, was it inevitable that you would go down the pub path?

I think so. I was two when my parents bought their first hotel, and I lived in a hotel my whole life so it was quite normal for me. 

international womens day kim starkey 2023
Kim Starkey - General Manager of Customs House Hotel, The Stag & Hunter and Jimmy Joans
In Newcastle the lockout laws were one of the hardest things we've ever had to deal with.

Our hotel in Mayfield, the Stag & Hunter Hotel, wasn’t affected, and we didn't own Customs House at the time, but we inherited those conditions when we took the hotel on. Those rules blanketed a whole area of Newcastle, whether you are part of the problem or not.

stag and hunter hotel mayfield newcastle

For Customs House it meant we weren't allowed to sell cocktails after 10 o'clock, which was really strange in a venue like this. To have that restriction placed on us in a city looks really silly, so it's those legislative changes that get thrown at us and cost a lot of money to fight. However, you learn to adapt and roll with it, and that’s the biggest thing I’ve learnt, to be adaptable.

customs house hotel newcastle

Your mum and dad have been a big influence on your life, and career, your mum championed the relaxing of gender separation in their pubs. A quote I read was “Women would not go into the main bar and I never believed things should be that way.” It seems they were ahead of their time in many ways? 

They put a lot of effort into how they were situated within the community, doing things pubs would consider normal now, but back then not at all. For example they brought food into their pubs which no one was doing at the time. They had sportsmen dinners and tried to make the pub more of an entertainment precinct, not just somewhere men came after work to have a drink. I look back at some of the things that they did, and they really were leaders.

Having such a strong female present in your life, must have shaped who you are significantly. 

It's funny, you don't realise, until you become a mother or move into a similar situation to what your parents may have been in, how important it is to have someone in your life like that. 

I was so fortunate, mum was always there picking us up from school and sports, and she was such a hard worker, but she never stopped being my mother. Her and my dad were a pretty formidable partnership, which is probably the same for myself and Mick. 

Whilst you have been in pubs all your life, in 2021 you opened Jimmy Joans in the Hunter Valley. Was this type of business one you had always wanted to run?

Not necessarily a smaller bar. We moved to that property about 11 years ago and we always said we should put a small bar down the front, and it’s taken us that long, mostly because the opportunity to come to Customs House happened. It was during the second Covid lockdown that we decided to give it a go. 

jimmy joans hunter valley

What I love most about Jimmy Joans, is it’s a mixture of everything we do thrown into a much smaller venue and we've been able to give Thom & Eliza Boyd, who we are in partnership with, the opportunity to start their own hospitality business. Eliza and Thom have been in hospitality for a long time so it’s been nice to work with them. 

They are all quite different venues, do you enjoy that mix? 

Yes. There's always something different going on and that needs to be done which makes business far more interesting rather than doing the exact same thing each day. It’s great to have that diversity with the three venues.