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Nº 41

Robed Up The Right Way




I don’t manscape. Which is a brave admission in my first Editor’s Letter. But I think it’s important that we have an understanding from the kick-off. And because I don’t manscape, I don’t need an assembly line of hygiene products at my disposal — a simple toothbrush, toothpaste, shaving brush, soap and shaver will do me fine. That’s five things. Five things to keep me from looking like Shaggy in the morning. So why is it so difficult for so many hotels to provide me with enough bathroom real estate to perch the contents of my sponge bag? I’ll cop the puddle of water caused by ultra-modern monsoon showers without a sunken catchment, I’ll even climb into the bath and contort under the midget-height showerhead, but only if you give me space for more than one item next to the sink. Even more taxing than a lack of convenience are the ‘everything-must-be-dark-because-life-is-a-party’ hotels, forcing you to slide into their broom closet of a bathroom only to find they ‘forgot’ to install any blinkin’ lights. And being blinded by a solitary dichroic — poking up from somewhere below the belt, spotlighting regions of my anatomy I’d be happier left where the sun don’t shine — in a funereal grey-tiled shower with ‘blackout’ shower curtains, is no compensation. It’s not a party, it’s depressing. Blackout blinds may be perfect for jetlag or a bad acid trip, but I assure you, blackout shower curtains are not. I may not want to see myself in the morning, but I at least want to feel like it is the morning. But all can be forgiven, all will be forgotten, in the warm embrace of a fine cotton bathrobe. It’s the most impossible, yet most brilliant garment: a one-size-fits-all piece of clothing that can conceal the girth of a Russian oil tycoon and his budgie smugglers, as well as fit snug around Natalie Portman’s waspish waist. I never really thought myself a man of the robe, until I got hitched. Having stayed in my share of hotels, much of the time I don’t think twice about what’s on offer — I’m not what you’d call a hotel groupie. I’ve never felt right on a treadmill, pencil-thin lap pools are an inconvenience, and I’d rather tread the pavement looking for somewhere to drink than kick back in the lobby bar. But on arrival my wife will unpack our bags, throw open all the cupboards, and go from room to room calling out an inventory of

the hotel room’s perks and idiosyncrasies. And one of the very first to be checked off this list are the robes. No robe, and you’re sinking the slipper in — you’re a Scrooge with no nous for the finer ‘necessities’ of life. And if you call yourself a luxury hotel but stock none of the luxury doe-skin robes in super-soft, brushed cotton and lined with plush white terry, then what are ya? I want a choice of eggshell or slate with the standard linen white. I want deep side pockets to stash the remote in. I want to wrap myself in $100-plus velour luxury with a shawl collar and not think a thing of it. It’s the one communal garment I don’t mind sharing. Who cares that a sweaty Gaga may have covered up in mine as a guilty pleasure away from the spotlight. At that moment when I’m laying on my bed watching local news with the secure feeling of a robe firmly tied at the waist, it smells like fabric softener and feels like I’m being hugged by a microfibre teddy bear. If you want to treat your guests like royalty, and haven’t left room for a decent throne, then get them a robe fit for a king. If you’re after a few proper tips for your next bathroom, come down to the venue-sponsored Hotel Hospitality & Design Show Refurbishment Stage to see what designer Eminè Mehmet has to say about it. We’ll be the ones in the bathrobes. And if you can’t get to Sydney, keep your eyes glued to for updates and images of the best in show. Mark Davie is the fresh-faced editor of venue magazine — only because he fit in his shower this morning. Drop him a line at

CONTENTS CONTACTS: Advertising Office: (02) 9986 1188 PO Box 6216, Frenchs Forest, NSW 2086 Editorial Office: (03) 5331 4949 PO Box 295, Ballarat, VIC 3353 Editor: Mark Davie ( Publication Manager: Stewart Woodhill ( Editorial Director: Christopher Holder ( Publisher: Philip Spencer ( Art Direction & Design: Dominic Carey ( Additional Design: Leigh Ericksen ( Circulation Manager: Jen Temm ( Accounts: Jen Temm (

alchemedia publishing pty ltd (ABN: 34 074 431 628) PO Box 6216, Frenchs Forest, NSW 2086 All material in this magazine is copyright Š 2010 Alchemedia Publishing Pty Ltd. The title Venue is a registered Trademark. Apart from any fair dealing permitted under the Copyright Act, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission. The publishers believe all information supplied in this magazine to be correct at the time of publication. They are not in a position to make a guarantee to this effect and accept no liability in the event of any information proving inaccurate. After investigation and to the best of our knowledge and belief, prices, addresses and phone numbers were up to date at the time of publication. It is not possible for the publishers to ensure that advertisements appearing in this publication comply with the Trade Practices Act, 1974. The responsibility is on the person, company or advertising agency submitting or directing the advertisement for publication. The publishers cannot be held responsible for any errors or omissions, although every endeavour has been made to ensure complete accuracy.

New Smooth Operator Design Brief Sit Kit Lit General Havelock Design Brief Platform 28 Hunky Dory Social Club Rydges Lakeside Canberra Park8 Sydney Harbour Marriott Rachel Argaman Mauritius Delicious! Citadines on Bourke Melbourne 20 Questions, Sarah Cusack Outrigger Little Hastings Street The Botanical Avido Commercial Edge You Wish

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SMOOTH OPERATOR Business plan (noun): A plan. For your business. Pretty simple really. Matt Mullins, partner in Sand Hill Road hospitality group

There are strict rules about how to write a business plan. I don’t know any of them. But I know the questions I ask myself as we’re planning an operation, and the more we do it, the more easily we seem to find the answers. Our first business plan, which still sits in our office and which we still occasionally open with a laugh and a slow shake of our heads, was pretty simple by today’s standards. But it was nevertheless the result of a solid year of thinking, talking, arguing and drinking, and on the back of those 165 pages, four crazy 25 year-olds raised $200,000, and built a pub. As for those rules, well, I think you can plan your business any way you like, as long as you plan. One of our best mates owns a cracking pub in Carlton. His business plan is two words: one-percenters (ok, two words and a hyphen). He’s built an extraordinarily profitable business by squeezing out every one-percent he can find. He renovates one eBay light fitting at a time. He builds his market one conversation at a time. He knocks off staff in 5-minute blocks. He crunches reps for every last promotional buck. He buys his pack beer from Dan’s Column because even with the additional transport cost, he can shave one percent off his COGS. What it lacks in finesse, it makes up for in results. For what it’s worth, we’ve always structured our business plans around three key concerns: finance, marketing and operations.

all about knowing exactly who your market is. Then it’s about discerning exactly what they want, exactly where they want it, exactly what they’ll pay for it, and exactly how you’ll tell them about it. I once worked on the PR for a Barry Humphries show at the Princess Theatre. My job (and I made it sound more glamorous at the time) was to scour The Age and the Herald Sun every morning for a month, cut out any article about Melbourne and Melbournians, and send it to Barry in London (although I didn’t call him Barry to his face of course. I called him Bazz — only once, before they rushed me out of the room). Anyway, turns out old Bazz was onto something: it’s easy to know your market when you are your market. But if you’re no longer your market or if you never were, you better do your research (or have some flunky do it for you). Knowing what they want — the product — is just as important. But once you’ve worked that out, you’ve still got to work out how to make it. And here’s a bit of advice: you’ll always make a better product if you love the product you’re making — easier if your product involves beer and wine than, say, dog food. But that’s where we’re lucky in this game. We should love what we’re selling. Our product is lifestyle, it’s fun, it’s joy. There’s no excuse not to love it. Most of us mistake marketing for publicity. Marketing is hard graft. It’s hours spent researching your market, talking with them, testing ideas, tweaking your product. Publicity is a small part of the exercise. Having distinguished myself so highly with Bazz, my next gig was a real step up: professional wrestling. They’d just flown in from the States, with their spandex costumes, their fake title belts and names like ‘The Strangler’. I was planning the press conference with their ‘choreographer’. He told me where the wrestlers would sit. I told him where the TV cameras would be. He told me he invented the sleeper hold. I told him it’d be handy if a fight broke out. He told me he wasn’t ‘a f**kin’ trained monkey, he was a professional athlete and a fight would break out if a fight broke out, not because some little s**t from the PR department reckoned it’d be handy’. He then reminded me he invented the sleeper hold. Needless to say, a fight broke out. We made all the nightly news bulletins and front page in the papers. But they didn’t sell any tickets. The publicity was right, but the marketing was wrong. In the end, publicity stunts don’t make up for that.

On the back of those 165 pages, four crazy 25 yearolds raised $200,000, and built a pub


THE MONEY We cashflow everything: every cent we spend finding, planning, building and opening the venue; every percent of liquor-labour, GP and Net. We run cashflows at three different levels of turnover, three years out. We cashflow conservatively. If the business isn’t worth doing at 70% of expected turnover, it isn’t worth doing. Equally, we don’t cashflow at best-case — say 130 or 140%. This is business planning, not business dreaming. The world’s full of entrepreneurs who believed their own best-case cashflows. So is the dole queue. It takes a huge amount of information to make accurate cashflows. Every experienced publican can rattle off their previous quarters’ revenue, food GP and liquor-labour like they’re remembering their kids’ birthdates… sometimes better. They’ll also know to the nearest 2k what their closest competitors turned over last week. If you don’t have this information, your cashflows are wrong. Or if they’re right, it’s an accident. Either way, you’ve got to do your homework. Start with the bar manager at the pub round the corner — our industry leaks like a sieve. THE MARKET Somewhere between schoolies and starting work, I completed a marketing degree, and for the life of me I still don’t know where those three years went. (Actually, three and a half by the time I did ‘Accounting 1’ the third time.) Anyway, I’ve carried two enduring lessons out of the haze that was Melbourne University: one — how to ignite a shot of Sambuca Black in my mouth; and two — the 4 P’s: product, place, price and promotion. While I’m normally wary of acronyms — and particularly acronyms that have been further shortened by the placing of a number before the letter — I gotta tell ya, the 4 P’s work. For a more scientific explanation, google ‘the 4 Ps’ and avoid the youtube clip of Tony Robbins. But for the basics, read on. Marketing is

THE SYSTEM Operations are all about systems. Systems are all about people. From stocktake to rostering, payroll to accounts, HR to ordering, the systems you need need people. There’s room for learning on the job, but not much. Do you know these systems? Have you worked with them? If not, hire people who have. Some owners build their entire business around themselves. The rules, the culture, the discipline of the staff, all come down to the owner, who’s there all day every day. Which is fine if you don’t drink alcohol. Otherwise, it’s a risk. Firstly, a risk of developing a drinking habit. Secondly, what happens when you can’t be there for a day, or a week, a month or a year? And a final word of advice: formulating a good business plan is an essential skill, but knowing when it’s wrong is even more so. Don’t be afraid to change your plan. Be afraid if you don’t.

CONTACTS: Milne Architects: (08) 9410 6555 or Structural Concepts Australia (Builder): (08) 8374 2184 or Prana Design Studios (Graphic Design): 0413 007 899 or Viridian (Glass Supplier): 1800 810 403 or 1

James Richardson (Furniture): (08) 8211 8966 or JSB Lighting (Lighting): (08) 8363 1844 or Jetmaster (Gas Fireplaces): 1300 538 627 or Harvey Norman Commercial (LED Lighting & CBus): (08) 8150 8000 or Brintons (Carpet): 1800 332 694 or Regal Displays (External Signage): (08) 8277 1473 or B.I.G. Image Graphics (Digital Film Printing): (08) 8340 1256 or Italia Ceramics (Tiles): (08) 8336 2366 or



THE GENERAL GETS GLASSED General Havelock: 162 Hutt St, Adelaide SA (08) 8223 3680 Photography: Steve Rendoulis

‘Glassing’ is a taboo word in most pubs. But Ken Milne and Lochlan Pellew of Milne Architects don’t shy away from a bit of glass; they embrace it. When Ken literally scratched the surface of the General Havelock in Adelaide he found the green Vitrolite glass and charcoal terrazzo of a 1930s Art Deco makeover. With approval from the Heritage Department, Milne Architects decided to stick with the Art Deco theme. The hotel had earned itself a bad name in the ’90s after someone knocked a few walls out and a fireplace or two without any planning approval. The council suspended the license, and the operator went broke. And even though there have been two owners since, there was still a bit of resistance to the renovation. Milne pressed on amidst council constraints. Having to keep in all the lintels, Milne covered the ceiling with perforated panels that create a dappled leaf pattern effect when light is bounced off the lintels and shone through them. Leaf patterns also feature on the bar, and underfoot, Milne chose an iguana pattern carpet designed by Brintons. Up-

stairs, the cocktail bar ceiling is covered in metaliic crocodile skin wallpaper, with fragmented mirrors above the fireplaces. Milne paid special attention to the ladies loos, believing they should always be first class. “You have to get that right, because if the girls come, the blokes come, and that’s good for business,” said Ken. After discovering green glass on the façade, Milne turned to glass to line most of the internal walls, covering them with patterns by Prana Design. The main pattern was designed small to eliminate problems with alignment. But the glaziers and film printers were so good, all the patterns matched up perfectly anyway. Milne also took the dark film covering off the windows, created an atrium in the main bar with Lochlan’s swirling Art Deco steel staircase sweeping through the middle, and brought some lighting back into the guts of the pub. The glass has completely changed the condition of the venue, and with the relined balcony and artificial lawn upstairs, “the Havey” lives on as a popular Adelaide hotel, reborn with another Art Deco makeover.



UNDERCOVER GOSS venue shadows Toga boss Rachel Argaman as she delves deep beneath the folds to dig up the dirt. Story: Heather Barton Photography: Corey Sleap

Undercover Boss “ was a huge learning

experience. It made me realise how one directional and overplanned management meetings are” 37

achel Argaman is many things — a good cook is not one of them. The dynamic, 45-year-old CEO of Hospitality for the Toga Group’s Medina, Adina, Travelodge and Vibe hotel chains, which boast a $350m turnover and a 2000-strong workforce, burns toast. I know this because, like thousands of other people, I saw her do so, in one of her own hotel kitchens on Undercover Boss. Undercover Boss is a reality TV show, based on the premise that “the toughest job your boss will ever do is yours.” The boss goes undercover down in the trenches to be filmed doing battle alongside their troops. In Argaman’s case one of her first battles came in the form of a commercial toaster, which it’s fair to say, she lost. GOING M.I.A. Disguised by glasses, a new hair colour, a pseudonym and an alibi claiming she was being filmed by a documentary team for a program on those wanting to enter the hospitality industry, her performance was assessed on camera by those she worked with. The embattled, if unsuspecting, sous chef, Tony at the Vibe Hotel in Sydney said diplomatically, “She might find she’s more suited to reception.”

Her next skirmish came in the form of valet parking. After fumbling the keys she gets behind the wheel with Shaun, the affable and resourceful porter at the Vibe Savoy in Melbourne who feels the need to ask from the passenger seat if she actually has a driver’s licence. She claims she does. Her driving and the look on Shaun’s face gently suggests otherwise. Argaman does much better in house keeping where Vavencia at the Medina Grand in Sydney shows her around a hospital corner and post-party clean up not for the faint-hearted. Despite being match fit, courtesy of a fourday-a-week running regime, Argaman is not quite strong enough to wield a delinquent doona into place with one quick flick of the wrist in a way you know Vavencia does without even breaking a sweat. And while she takes instruction well from Bejita at the breakfast buffet at the Travelodge in Melbourne’s Southbank, she isn’t quite able to head off a customer complaint regarding a neglected request for crispy bacon, although to be fair the oversight wasn’t hers. Argaman’s stint under the guidance of perfectionist Zarah, Duty Manager of the newest hotel in the Group, Travelodge Docklands, is almost flawless until she is let loose amongst the soft furnishings and cushions in reception. She scatters them ‘expressively’ before being firmly but fairly instructed in how to place them in

strict colour-coordinated formation by Zarah. HIDDEN ASSETS Argaman is genuinely impressed by her team and pleased but not surprised to discover how good they are at their jobs. What she is surprised to discover is that some of the programs instituted by head office at the Vidor family-owned Toga Group, are not filtering down the line. The OzHarvest program, for instance, that collects leftover food from commercial kitchens to redistribute to those in need, isn’t being carried out in Tony’s kitchen because there has been a glitch in the pick-up process. While Vavencia recycles rigorously during house keeping, there are still a lot of plastic bags being used in the process. Professional development usually put in place for people with ambitions and background, like Bejita who wants to be a chef, hasn’t occurred because she has kept her light under a bushel. And leadership training for someone with Zarah’s natural ability and whose rise through the ranks has come through her own initiative could be rewarded and enhanced by a formal program. Argaman said, “Undercover Boss was a huge learning experience. It made me realise how one directional and over-planned management meetings are. It was so valuable being on the ground, we have decided our heads of department and I will work one day, each quarter, in the hotels.”

As a result of her undercover adventure the OzHarvest program is now working efficiently with a food and beverage champion in each hotel. Vacuum-sealed packaged food is now placed in bar fridges in the hotel dock, with OzHarvest picking up at a set time. Vavencia has been called upon to work with the Sustainabilty team at head office on reducing the amount of plastic used in Housekeeping. Bejita has been given an internship in the kitchen at the Melbourne Vibe Savoy Hotel, where Shaun, now stars in reception. And Zarah has been promoted twice since the program shot and is the inaugural recipient of the Management Leadership Program at Toga, which will see her travel to Germany for the establishment of the Adina Apartments Hotel in Berlin. If these were the only outcomes of Argaman’s experience on Undercover Boss they would be more than enough.


IT’S A SETUP Argaman didn’t know who she would be working with when she arrived each day for filming. She didn’t know that Zarah had started with Toga at 17 or that Bejita had been to cookery school in Nepal. She didn’t know Vavencia hadn’t seen her 91-year-old father in the Philippines in many years or that Tony’s wife had given up work because she is suffering a second bout of leukaemia and that they have two small children under five. Nor did she know Shaun had recently discovered he was HIV positive. These were touching and obviously in some cases shocking and heart breaking stories for the CEO, and viewers alike. Of course, Southern Star (the production company behind Undercover Boss) had researched Toga’s team for their personal stories, so they knew these stories but Argaman didn’t and her response to them was unpremeditated and genuine. It was also tangible. As well as the rewards they instituted for Zarah in Germany and Bejita in Melbourne, Toga Hospitality have given Tony extra leave, a family holiday and are providing food for his family while his wife is in hospital receiving treatment, so he doesn’t have to cook at home. They are sending Vavencia to the Philippines to see her father who has never been outside his village and making a substantial donation on Shaun’s behalf to the

It was so valuable “ being on the ground, we have decided our heads of department and I will work one day, each quarter, in the hotels”

Positive Living Centre in Melbourne, which has been instrumental in his coming to terms with his diagnosis. Each of the team members were overwhelmed at Toga’s response to their personal as well as professional situations. It would be easy to be cynical and say the program was ‘Oprahesque’ in its ability to push emotional buttons but Argaman said, “Southern Star was very respectful and professional. They assigned a researcher to liaise months prior to shooting to look across the organisation to identify the right people and hotels. They started by simply asking who would be happy to appear on the program. The hardest thing about the program was what didn’t make it to screen. “Not all of the stories or rewards aired. Nor,” she said as a joking aside, “did my perfect poached eggs or my stint in reception, which I loved.” Seems Tony was right about that. Shaun’s story, one of the most poignant, came in fact, at the last minute after a couple of other people pulled out. “Shaun is like the singing porter, and was noticed by the production team while in Melbourne,” Argaman said. His enthusiasm and willingness is palpable on screen. After shooting, Argaman and the production company were protective and particularly concerned that Shaun felt comfortable with the public exposure of his diagnosis, which he insisted he was. ON WATCH Undercover Boss was one week out of Argaman’s life — a big one, admittedly — but the other 51 weeks of her year are almost as demanding. A CEO’s job involves hard decisions and answering difficult questions like, for instance, those about the Toga Group development of the Hakoah Club in Sydney’s Bondi, which will be demolished and replaced with 113 serviced apartments, 45 residential units and a shopping centre. There has been some opposition from local groups and complaints from Waverley Council — not about the development as such, but about its height, bulk, scale and the loss of views. Argaman doesn’t shy away from the sticky subject saying she thinks the $89m scheme designed by Melbourne-

based architects Bates Smart, “is beautiful. I personally like it. I’m very excited about it.” “Bondi beach is a national icon so we all as Australians have a vested interest in seeing any development done sensitively. I think this scheme will add much-needed amenity to Hall St with alfresco dining and a whole range of interesting elements at street level.” Argaman isn’t however responsible for or the spokesperson on the project, which comes under the wing of Toga Construction and Development, a separate division to Toga Hospitality but is happy to refer questions to the person who is, Fabrizio Pirelli. [Look for a follow-up with Fabrizio in a coming issue of venue — Ed] DOUBLE AGENT With three children between the ages of 15 and two, an arduous travel schedule, a large, rapidly growing international business to run, not to mention all that other running, one has to ask how, this winner of the 2008 Telstra Business Women of the year, does it? “A much stickier subject, my kids,” she jokes. “The short answer,” she said “is, I don’t!” As someone in a business that has a 6040 percent gender split in personnel with women in the majority, Argaman is leery of any work/life balance or superwoman myths. “I have a husband who works full-time but co-parents fully and I have an angel of a mother-in-law who lives around the corner. We don’t have a live-in nanny but we do have a cleaner and someone who does the 3-6pm shift with the children taking them to after-school activities. She doesn’t do the cooking. I wish she did. Fortunately my husband is a brilliant cook. We tend to make a stock pile of meals on Sundays for the week - which lasts until about Tuesday and by Wednesday there are a flurry of calls on the way home about what on earth to do.” Mike, Argaman’s husband, who works in Development for Toga Hospitality said, “Rachel is very focussed and goal oriented.” This of course doesn’t apply to the kitchen. “I’ve heard about these perfect poached eggs but I’ve never actually seen them,” he says.


20 uestions with


Sarah Cusack Director of Sales, Accor Queensland

Queensland has recently suffered the blow of not one but two natural disasters. Sarah Cusack gives the lowdown on how the hotel industry is coping post the floods and Yasi, and encourages everyone to come visit.

I’m in the regional office based at Novotel Brisbane at the top end of the city. We were concerned about Mercure, which is right on the river down in North Quay. That was heavily sandbagged, but we didn’t see any damage or flooding at all. It was unusual because buildings only a couple of blocks up were getting their entire carparks flooded but we came out relatively unscathed, thank goodness. We had about 12 staff that were affected and five that lost everything, all of their possessions and homes, so our fundraising activity primarily has been around supporting those staff members. We’ve been doing property-based activities, like dollar drinks, and all funds raised have gone back to the overall appeal. But probably the biggest contribution to the fundraising effort was an auction website we launched. We went out to all of our properties nationally and some of our partners and they provided some of the auction items for the

staff. We raised $10,000. We’ve also had gala cocktail events and morning teas, so we haven’t yet reached a final count of money raised. But we’ve been trying to base most of our activity around assisting our staff first and foremost. The phone systems and communications boxes are underneath the buildings in the carparks, so that was the biggest concern, making sure they remained dry, otherwise you lose all of your communication. The affected suburbs are still in cleanup but it’s mostly behind closed doors now. The streets are a lot cleaner. All of the rubbish removal has been done in the heavily affected areas. Really to drive around the Brisbane CBD at the moment, you wouldn’t know. People are still inside their houses trying to remove the mud, which is the difficult part now. The Stamford Hotel down at the bottom end of the city is still closed because they were flooded from the carpark up and lost all of their communications. That’s the only hotel

shut at the moment and they’re expected to reopen in April. Our hotels assisted with quite a lot of ‘disrupt accommodation’ co-ordinated through Tourism Queensland. All of the hotels in the industry provided a level of inventory and Tourism Queensland placed people. There were a number of evacuation centres around the city and many hotels took them food and supplies. Most of the disrupt accommodation was down at Mercure, funnily enough. We also had emergency services and police groups who wanted to be down that end of town where the action was. The hotel was actually full throughout the entire period, which is interesting. It was really great to see the ‘mud army’ as they called it. That was so well co-ordinated. Unfortunately children couldn’t go along so my little boy and his friends had a bakeoff to help out. You’d see kids handing out cakes to take out for the day for the cleanup, which was really sweet.

Our Cairns and Townsville Hotels all went into crisis management a few days before Yasi hit. Particularly in Cairns, all the hotels were asked by the Regional Manager to ensure that bathtubs were filled and torches were made available for all the guests. Baths need to be full because you lose water pressure. It’s a reserve for personal hygiene, toilet flushing, that sort of thing — not to drink! The hotels had plenty of bottled water that was given to the guests. The hotels went into lockdown just before the cyclone hit, which meant nobody could come in or out of the hotel, windows were taped up, all that sort of thing. All of the hotels in Cairns and Townsville lost power at some point, which is difficult to manage when you’re relying on

phones and emails in emergencies. We actually diverted all the phones and communications and ran them out of the regional office here in Brisbane. Townsville and Cairns came out relatively unscathed. We had quite a cleanup in Townsville just from tree damage. The two hotels in Palmer Street in Townsville were the only ones in north Queensland that had to be evacuated in that period. It’s back to business really. The hotels are all trading normally. There is still a bit of a lag with some of our resorts at Twin Waters and the Gold Coast. Maybe there’s a perception that there’s still damage or problems with access and there’s really not, so there’s no real reason to stay away. It’s really important to support both Townsville and Cairns.

Cairns has had a hard time of late, from an occupancy point of view, with the international markets falling out a little bit, so it’s now even more important for leisure travellers to get up and support far north Queensland. But from a corporate or business travel perspective trading levels are back to normal. It’s all very positive, there’s no reason to be concerned about travelling to Queensland at all. Brisbane Marketing and Tourism Queensland has done a great job pushing that message, because the images constantly coming through the media don’t paint a very good picture, when really that was such a small part of the city and it’s back to normal. But obviously there’s still a long way to go for people who have lost their homes and possessions.



The Bot went from hot property to hot potato in the space of a couple of years. Now it’s finding its feet and charming hearts again. Story: Mark Davie The Botanical: 169 Domain Rd, South Yarra VIC (03) 9820 7888 or



CONTACTS Webb+ (Design): (03) 9468 2570 or 1

Brintons (Dining Room Carpet): (03) 5226 3200 or


Jardan (Tables, Dining Room Furniture & Ottomans): (03) 9548 8866 or Living Edge (Andreu World Carola CafĂŠ Chair): (03) 9009 3940 or


Dedece (Tom Dixon Wingback Lounge Chair): (02) 9360 2722 or Temperature Design (Mosaic Table Base): (03) 9419 1447 or Bisazza (Mosaic Table Top): (02) 9838 9233 or


Eco Timber (Floorboards): (03) 9421 6866 or Space Furniture (Canasta Lounge Chair): (03) 9426 3000 or Pelle (Leather Upholstery): (02) 9460 9222 or Kvadrat Maharam (Fabrics): (02) 9212 4277 or Laminex: 132 136 or Artedomus (Stone & Tiles): (03) 9428 9898 or Amalgamated Marble (Bluestone): (03) 9338 3370 or Caesarstone (Benchtops): 1300 279 927 or Perini Tiles (Alfresco Tile): (03) 9421 0550 or


ffectionately known as’ has been almost automatically prefixed to every mention of The Bot, in recent times. The phrase sums up the goodwill Melbourne still holds for one-time institution, The Botanical, that after a spell in the dumps looks on the up again. For those less (affectionately) acquainted with the storied history of South Yarra’s The Botanical restaurant, here’s a brief overview of the fairytale so far. In 2002, entrepreneur Chris Lucas and chef Paul Wilson swept in and turned a flagging underachiever into the belle of the ball. After carving out a name for herself as a fine dining institution, she was lured away from Lucas by the Cornerstone Group offering unprecedented riches for her hand [reportedly $16m]. But Cornerstone was on a serial-philandering (and unsustainable) buying binge. Two long years later, things were not looking good for the happy couple and The Bot’s image had suffered from neglect. Finally another suitor, multi-millionaire Computershare founder Chris Morris on his Colonial Leisure Group steed, swept in from the far West to buy up key pieces of Cornerstone’s portfolio and save The Bot from an early demise. All that melodrama squeezed into a few of short years?! It’s enough to leave a bad taste in anyone’s mouth. But by the look of things a storybook ending is ever-more likely. The Bot is vibrant, busy, and bright. A CHANGE OF DIRECTION To restore an iconic venue to its former glory (The Bot ascended to the heights of Good Food Guide ‘Restaurant of the Year’ in 2004), it would be tempting to crank up the nostalgia and ring in a few past stars. But a homage was always going to be a pale imitation, leaving ample room for critics to dismiss the new look Bot as ‘not as good as the old Bot’. Webb Plus designed the new Botanical, and Design Director Adrian Downes revealed that although the fitout is mostly brand new, there are still a few elements that are sure to trigger a few ‘old Bot’ memories. The wine wall is still there, albeit reclad, a few of the large artichoke-shape lights have been reused, the leaf branding has been reinstated with a modern touch, and the fireplace has been retained. By no means was this a costsaving exercise, as the level of finishes makes clear, but rather a nod to regulars to let them know Colonial honours the old Bot while making way for the new. THE PUB KNOW-HOW Colonial isn’t just another group gobbling up debt on a buying binge. Rather, it has built up a strong reputation based on not only successful venue management, but also as a top brewer with a great attention to craft and detail. Right

in the heartland of Western Australia winemaking terroir, Margaret River, Colonial Brewing Company has won awards for best small brewery, and a number for it’s signature beer Kolsch, including the WA Premier’s trophy for Best WA Beer. Colonial’s brewing know-how has meant a particular leaning towards pub venues for the group. Given the Botanical failed as a restaurant under different management, Colonial was keen to ever so slightly tweak the emphasis and gear the Botanical away from ‘thoroughbred restaurant’, to ‘restaurant in a pub’. For Downes, that meant Webb Plus “changed the whole focus, so the back bar is more prominent. Opening it up, and making it much more obvious where you want to go when you arrive. It was not about disrespecting what was there already, and what had obviously been very successful, with a lot of regular clientele. It’s something that would appeal to them, but then attract a slightly different crowd as well.” FOOD FOR THOUGHT Heading up the charge to reinstate the Botanical’s food credentials is Malaysian-born chef Cheong Liew. Liew is one of Australia’s finest chefs — he has a medal of the Order of Australia to prove it. His most famous venture being The Grange at the Hilton in Adelaide, which he opened in 1995, and after more than a decade of celebrated food finally called it quits. It did follow a bollocking at the hands of a high-profile food reviewer (read into that what you will), but the fact remains: Liew is and has been at the top echelon of Aussie chefs for 30 years. And after kicking off his career in Melbourne, has finally made it back again. “He’s very excited by it,” says Grady Patching, Victoria Area Manager for Colonial. “He was a chef in Adelaide for 30 years, and now he’s back in Melbourne where he started in pubs and hotels so he feels like he’s giving a little bit back in a way. He’s a very calm and collected guy, and he’ll blow your mind. If you eat something, or go out with him, he could name every ingredient that’s in a dish. I doubt many people could do that. That’s what his young guys in the kitchen are learning from him.” WHAT WENT WRONG It wasn’t just Botanical that Colonial took over. Its sister restaurant Half Moon, and popular pizza bars Bimbo’s and Lucky Coq (converted from a live music venue during Cornerstone’s time), were among a number of venues that enabled Colonial to instantly build a strong presence in Victoria. But as Colonial has shown, by keeping strong concepts like Bimbo’s and Lucky Coq intact, not everything needs to change for the sake of it. That’s why not only a few familiar design cues remain, but so do a number of familiar faces. “Everybody that has left, left,” said Patching, implying they’d rather retool old staff

and give them a chance rather than retrench them. “We’re about giving them the skills to be business managers rather than venue managers. That’s what our whole company philosophy is about.” And how do they do that? Grady Patching again: “It’s about coaching them and giving them the tools. Now they control their own reporting and report to us instead of us giving them the report. It’s about giving them more responsibility and more nous about figures, so they know how their businesses are performing every day rather than when the office telling them once a month — they see it coming in live. It’s a big difference when you can see what you’re spending or doing. Some of the guys had never written a budget till Colonial came along. So it’s a big learning experience for them.” BIG CHANGES Botanical has gone through a full makeover at the hands of Webb Plus, and while there’s a new conservatory at the back (now a hallmark feature of the space), a new glass-walled private dining room, alfresco dining on the pavement, and more emphasis on the bar, Webb Plus made a concerted effort to bring cohesion. “Each area has its own identity, but then we’ve got consistency in flooring and certain finishes, which tie everything together,” explains Adrian Downes. “We’ve got the same leather in the banquettes in the café as we have on some of the dining seats, as we have on the chairs in the conservatory as well. So you don’t feel like you’re walking into a completely different space. “It’s tricky, because [Colonial] is gunning for wide appeal,” says Downes. “And they are open from seven in the morning, all the way through to late at night. So you’ve got to deal with all those different markets.” The dining room is set apart by the use of Brintons carpet to add luxury and break up the harder flooring. “There’s a slightly richer palette in the dining room — leather, lush fabrics, and great artwork,” continues Downes. “It’s also more intimate than the café. There was a move to move away from minimal Scandinavian, to bring in a richer scheme.” One of the highlights, other than the enclosedcanopy Conservatory is the private dining room, with a large sliding panel that provides almost direct contact with the kitchen. “It’s a little bit like a chef’s table concept, says Downes. “We wanted it to sit as a very light structure within the space, so the sides are glass, and the walls feature a custom tree graphic designed, referencing the Botanical Gardens. The tabletop is going to be changed soon. One of the joiners bought timber sourced from a tree that was growing directly opposite, but unfortunately it wasn’t dry enough to be ready for use. But it’s something that will happen further down the line — a great little story linked to the location.”



A NEW AGE OF RIESLING? Tim Bryar, The Botanical’s Wine Buyer, shares with venue how Colonial brews are travelling in Victoria, Botanical’s upmarket bottle-o, and why a new batch of Riesling perfectly suits Botanical’s new chef. “Being part of CLG, a Western Australian-based brewery, The Botanical serves as a showcase for Colonial products in Victoria. We have an artisanal Witbier offering and Colonial Kolsch — which would be put in the high-repetition beer category — on tap in all of the Colonial-owned venues, of which there are eight at this stage, with a couple more coming. And the beers have been very well received. Traditionally here, all wine in the wine wall and retail section could be either taken away or drunk on premise. This approach was a first, along with The European in the city. We’ve maintained some of that philosophy in the wine store, in that anything that’s bought in the shop you’re able to drink on premise, whereas the wine wall has become a showcase for the list itself. The wine list has changed substantially from the old restaurant. We have about 60% of the list coming from the New

World (Australia, USA, New Zealand, etc), and 40% from the Old World (Italy, France, Germany, etc). There’s plenty of Asian influence in the food, so the Riesling section tends to go quite well. Riesling can carry a bit of sugar, and we find that a bit of residual sugar goes quite well with Cheong’s food. In saying that, there are also quite a few other varieties, Pinot Gris for one, that also go very well with his food. There seems to be a shift in Australian Riesling production. Australia has always been known for having quite a dry unique style, with a high lemon and lime fruit concentration. Winemakers seem to be adding a more Germanic style to their stable. Mac Forbes makes a Riesling from Tasmania called RS20, which stands for residual sugar at 20 grams per litre. That’s very, very good. Jeffrey Grosset from the Clare Valley is also making a Gossett Off-dry. Lethbridge is a producer from Geelong, Victoria. Dr Nadesen is the name of the owner down there, and he makes an Off-dry style of Riesling, which is very good, as does Howard Park in the Margaret River. It’s not just one pocket in Australia, it’s a general shift, which I think is quite exciting for the country.”






Digital Living was faced with its fair share of challenges when installing the Botanical audio system. There were low ceilings, combined with high skylight roofs. And Colonial had the vision that all the speakers would be tucked up out of the way in the ceiling, but there was no ceiling space to work with. And on top of that, the client needed the flexibility to liven up the public bar when required. The order of the day was to go with Martin Audio Omniline 4-module speakers in the main room, with two AQ212 dual 12-inch subwoofers. This solved the problem of the lack of ceiling space (the Omnilines are vertical column speakers that can be set for a wide dispersion), with a striking look that adds to the design. In the Archer Room at the rear, Digital Living installed Martin Audio AQ8 ultra-compact full-range speakers that cover any function requirements. Throughout the rest of the fitout is a range of Martin Audio ceiling speakers, from four-inch to eight-inch depending on the output and dispersion required. After a bit of trial and error trying to shoehorn speakers between airducts, Digital Living found the Martin speakers provided great intelligibility and dispersion in the Private Dining Room even when surrounded by glass walls. All the zones are powered by low-impedance QSC amplifiers, with signal control by an Allen & Heath iDR8 mix processor. People always lose remotes but Matthew Price from Digital Living has a solution: Get rid of remote controls and put in a does-it-all control system. Traditionally, suitable control systems are American and expensive. Traditionally, the proportion of budget for control systems can be “anywhere from 20-50%. But now we’ve brought that back down to under 10%. Cheaper computer technology like iPads have enabled us to bring our costs down.” Digital Living use locally made software to convert the iPad into a custom wireless control surface. All of Apple’s OS has been trashed, so hitting the Home button simply returns you to the home of the in-house app. It means staff can’t surf the net, play Angry Birds or download from iTunes. And it also eliminates typically annoying iPad ‘helps’ like falling asleep and dropping off the network. Digital Living also uses RTI six-inch touchscreens to control audio, video and lighting from the one point. Conferencing and private functions are well catered for in the Botanical’s private dining room and Archer room. Digital Living has hooked up a mobile LCD screen that easily links to wireless devices for presentations: Boot up the computer and an access code appears on the TV, type it in and, voila, you’re linked in. Function guests can also plug in USB sticks straight into the TV or iPad, eliminating multiple boxes and messy cables. Digital Living is all about reducing mess. Price even colour-coded all the wall plates and cables, so staff don’t have to be tech experts to know where everything goes. It’s the little touches. Colonial is very happy with the results, so happy in fact, it’s ordered Digital Living to roll out similar Martin systems across all eight venues. Grady Patching: “We spend a fortune on making these places look beautiful and then, once inside, the second most important thing is the sound and feel. Sometimes you can be scared into leaving a place very quickly just by how it feels or sounds and you don’t even realise it. What we’re trying to do is put in place systems that are excellent but also allow managers to fine-tune ‘the feel’ — the music they know will work, scheduled at times of their choosing. This system even automatically winds down from midnight to one. It keeps the neighbours happy, but in the room you don’t notice that it’s winding down. I’m very happy with the sound.”

CONTACTS Digital Living (Installers): 1300 336 257 or 5 Technical Audio Group (Martin Audio, QSC, Allen & Heath): (03) 9350 4002 or Aviation (RTI): (07) 5580 3300 or

Venue #41  

Issue 41 of venue magazine features profiles, interviews, the latest technology and industry comment including: Hotel Special, Rachel Argama...