2010 Local Heroes: Carol Hall
Click here to read the profiles of our other Local Heroes for 2010. Eat, drink and be merry Photography by Pete Paterson Old friends chatter, lovers meet, families celebrate, neighbours…
Eat, drink and be merry
Photography by Pete Paterson
Old friends chatter, lovers meet, families celebrate, neighbours hail each other. It’s just another sunny weekend afternoon at Mono Cliffs Inn.
Add several hundred people to that scene, and you have Mono’s Big Day Out – a celebration of local food, music, heritage and art that on a September day for the past two years has attracted more than a thousand people to the grounds of Mono Cliffs.
Presiding over it all is restaurateur Carol Hall.
Some restaurants succeed on the quality of their food, some on their distinctive ambience. Mono Cliffs Inn has both those bases covered, but what has really transformed this rural restaurant into a convivial community hub is Carol’s pure joie de vivre.
Carol was born in Cooma, a town known as the gateway to Australia’s Snowy Mountains. After high school, like many young Australians, she set off to travel the world – although it was on a pit stop back home that she met the equally peripatetic Scotsman Michael Hall, and a union of souls was formed.
The couple’s continuing travels eventually brought them to Canada. Michael had work and Carol wanted to ski the Rockies. It was all just meant to be a stop along the way. However, their sons, Jason and Mitchell, were born here, and in the spirit of the seventies, Michael quit his job and the young family moved “back to the land” to a farm in Markdale where Michael pursued craft-making while Carol home-schooled the boys.
As their sons approached high-school age, the old wanderlust took hold. They sold everything and set off for another year of travel. It was on their return, in 1984, that they bought the former general store in Mono Centre and soon enough decided to try their hand at reopening it.
They quickly discovered that it was not the milk-and-eggs staples, but Carol’s deli sandwiches and baked goods that brought in the customers. So at Christmas in 1987, they made the leap and opened Mono Cliffs Inn, a fine dining restaurant with a downstairs pub.
Business in the sleepy village “started very, very slowly,” Carol recalls. So, to attract customers, they began hosting special events. The first one was The World’s Worst Art Show. Many others followed, though not all them as quirky. Among their customers was a young couple who had just formed a classical quartet called Quartetto Gelato. Michael and Carol invited them to play at the restaurant. Now internationally acclaimed, Quartetto still returns to perform at the inn once or twice a year.
In time, the business did begin to grow, the restaurant filled. Life was good.
And so it should have remained, but in 1996, Michael died of cancer and Carol’s world crumbled. “I didn’t think I could carry on,” she says. Still, with the help of her sons and her own irrepressible verve, carry on she did.
Over the past fourteen years, she has created a place where locals, young and old, casually gather; where couples who met there come back to be married; where most of the neighbourhood kids have done a turn waiting tables. A place where, as the song has it, “everybody knows your name.”
At 67, Carol no longer works the floor. She has a new granddaughter to coddle and more globetrotting to do. But she remains the presiding spirit of the place. She has continued the special events, including – in a nod to her Australian roots – a night inspired by Priscilla Queen of The Desert, when cross-dressing is de rigeur. Most often the proceeds of those events go to a local charity. Many of the dozens of volunteers and donors who contribute to Mono’s Big Day Out are recruited by her.
Day-to-day operations are now carried out by her two talented lieutenants: chef Jason Reiner and pub-keeper Wayne Biegel, who has an effervescence in Carol’s mould. Jason and Mitchell still help out in the background, and the long-time staff also feel like family (they tend to call her “Mum”).
“Some people call Mono Centre the centre of nowhere,” she says. “I like to tell them it’s the centre of everything.” And for most of her guests, during a few genial hours wrapped in the warm centre of Carol’s world, that’s exactly how it feels.