Kristy Scrymgeour and her brother Justin always talked about opening a wine bar but for years it remained just that. Talk.
The siblings were born and raised in Sydney but Justin spent time in the UK while Kristy travelled the world for two decades as a professional cyclist, racing in Europe and America.
The two-time Australian champion started her working life as a high school science teacher before devoting her life to cycling. At one point she was communications director and then manager of the Highroad and HTC-Highroad cycling team, then she took over as owner of the Specialized-lululemon cycling squad, which became the world-title-winning cycling team Velocio-SRAM.
In 2014 she co-founded cycling apparel brand, Velocio, and moved to New York.
"I was in the cycling world for a long time and I moved back to Australia when I had my daughter," she says.
"A few years later I decided I'd like to get out of the city and come up here to Wollombi, maybe do something with cycling outside the city. But then a friend said this cafe was for sale so I called my brother and here we are. Wollombi draws you in and you don't want to leave."
A parrot screeches and a magpie chimes in. It's pleasant and relaxing and very Wollombi.
The Scrymgeour siblings bought the business previously known as Myrtle House Cafe in November 2020.
"Yes, we bought it in-between the two COVID lockdowns," Kristy says, laughing.
"It started well, actually. We came up here after the first lockdown and it was really busy for six months or so - until the second lockdown hit. But it's starting to come back.
"We were quite lucky in that the business was already functioning really well with the previous owners. It was a bit of a hub in the community.
"We kept all the staff, we kept the menu going as is initially, and then we just started to slowly do our own thing - we changed the menu a bit, started to do tapas evenings, gave the cafe our own style inside, a paint job. Those kinds of things."
They also rebranded the cafe as Myrtle & Stone. It's open seven days for breakfast and lunch, plus Thursday nights for live music and tapas. Guests can stay at Myrtle Cottage next door.
"I'm passionate about music and I love live music, so we get artists in on Thursday nights, when we offer tapas," Kristy explains.
"It's a lot of fun. We change our tapas menu every week and offer everything from lovely warm chorizo to soups and satay chicken. It's not really traditional Spanish tapas or anything - it's all about providing a space for people to sit down and have a glass of wine, share some food, and maybe listen to some good music."
Kristy describes Myrtle & Stone's food offering as "country style" but says she has added "a bit of a Middle Eastern feel to some of the menu". Her wines are sourced from the Hunter Valley where possible, and her coffee is from The Little Marionette ("It's in Rozelle but there's a local slant - the wife of the owner is from here.")
Most of her customers are from Newcastle or the Central Coast, or Sydneysiders on their way to the Hunter Valley who decide to take the scenic route.
"When you first get here you think it's very small, that there's not very many people, but it's an amazing area - there are roads off roads off roads - with such a beautiful, eclectic mix of people," Kristy says.
"I think more people live here permanently now than they used to, too, because of the whole COVID situation. People would come here for a weekend, and quite a few of them decided to stay."
As for cycling, Kristy is keen to hit the region's many gravel roads when she finds the time. Sealed roads are "too busy and dangerous these days, with mobile phones and texting".
"When my old cycling friends come here they make me feel guilty because they're particularly fit and I'm not," she laughs.
"There are so many beautiful dirt roads here that are just endless. It's what drew me to the area in the first place. We just love it here."
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