When you look back at the Sunshine Coast’s evolution as one of the Australia’s premier hospitality and tourism destinations, the opening of the Spirit House in 1997 represents one of the most significant milestones.
The inspirational move by Helen Brierty and her husband Peter to transform a bare, downtrodden horse-paddock between a railway line and a motorway on the outskirts of Yandina into a lush oasis of Thai-style hospitality still seems a remarkable gamble, but oh what an incredibly astute decision it proved to be.
Helen sadly passed away earlier this month after a short fight with cancer, but anyone who met her will know that she intended her legacy to last well beyond 21 years.
It says so much about her that despite it being a ‘retirement project’ for Peter and her, she put so much energy and passion into the creation of the Spirit House that you would have thought this was a project that was conceived in her prime. In fact, Helen made a point of telling everyone that she would never stop working, and it would have been a wonderful moment for her to witness the latest chapter in the evolution of the Spirit House when The Hong Sa Bar and private dining room opened last year.
The Spirit House was far more than just a restaurant – it was a destination in its own right. Visitors from around Australia and overseas come to the Sunshine Coast specifically to take a class at the Cooking School. It attracts couples, friends, corporate groups and has been so influential that food lovers come back year after year for another course.
In many ways, it was well before its time, because it was as much an ‘experience’ as it was a meal or a cooking class. It also created a remarkable reputation for the Sunshine Coast as a culinary hot-spot for Asian-style cuisine. The success of the Spirit House inspired many other Asian-influenced cooking schools and restaurants to open on the Coast, with the region’s sub-tropical feel and climate and our outstanding produce providing the perfect ingredients.
It should also be remembered that thanks to Helen’s dedication and hard work that the Spirit House employs over 50 locals, while it has helped establish and build the hospitality careers of hundreds of others over the past twenty years.
It’s always sad to lose such a charismatic and influential figure, but I’m sure that Peter, and Helens’s sons, plus all the team in Yandina, will know that Helen’s ‘spirit’ will always remain an essential ingredient in the Spirit House’s continuing success.
Simon Latchford is the CEO of Visit Sunshine Coast.