Each of Applejack Hospitality’s restaurants have their own unique flavour – from The Butler’s French-colonial air to the California-beach vibe of SoCal, The Botanist’s worldly eclecticism and Bondi Hardware’s rustic charm – so we couldn’t help but be intrigued when we heard a fifth instalment was on the cards.
Catching up with owners Hamish Watts and Ben Carroll in Issue 27, the pair remained tight-lipped on their latest brainchild, but all was revealed last week when bar and diner Della Hyde throw open its doors on Sydney’s Oxford Street. With pastel walls and old world fixtures (think Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel) the venue plays on vintage hotel lobby bars of the past and – like all good hotel bars – the kitchen stays open late.
To mark their fifth venue, here’s five pieces of business wisdom from the guys who, we think it’s safe to say, are on a serious roll.
YOU’RE NEVER READY
Hamish: It’s one of those things. You’re never as prepared as you probably think you want to be, but we had an idea for a good product in a good location… We had a business model which we thought was unique and part of where we saw the Sydney dining landscape moving and just put some numbers together and made sure we were confident in that, had some failsafe back-up plans in place and just took a jump.
NAIL YOUR FORMULA
Hamish: We focus on a core set of service values which are stretched right across Applejack, from Bondi to The Butler.
Ben: Just make sure the quality and consistency are there. If you’ve got all the fundamentals of hospitality right, along with that fantastic atmosphere and product, hopefully it’s going to be successful for you.
…BUT DON’T BE AFRAID TO TWEAK IT
Ben: Every site we’ve done, we’ve gone, ‘Alright, this is what we’re going to pitch.’ And we try to get it as close to what the customers’ wants and needs are, but it always needs to shift throughout… you’ve got to do that very quickly. That’s all part of the process and all part of the fun as well – making those mistakes and learning from them along the way. And I think you can try to learn from other people’s mistakes but it’s nothing like learning them first-hand for yourself.
HAVE A BACKUP PLAN (OR TWO)
Ben: We modelled financials on a bunch of different scenarios: best case, break even and worst case. We made sure that even if we hit the worst-case scenario we could make the business work well enough to keep the landlord off our backs and afford the odd can of baked beans. This was achieved by flipping the business to a low-cost business model utilising a low labour base and using our girlfriends as free labour to keep costs tight. We also had some back=up concepts we could easily have switched to if the local market didn’t warm to the Hardware concept.
TWO HEADS ARE BETTER THAN ONE
Hamish: Doing it yourself would be quite daunting and difficult and doing it in a large group of people would also have its challenges with too many people giving advice, so just having someone else there to encourage you and bounce ideas off has been really, really important for us along the way.