Applejack is a boutique Sydney based hospitality group that has experienced great success since starting in 2011. The group founded by Hamish Watts and Ben Carroll aims to lead the industry through unique venues and experiences that brings people and the community together. We catch up with Hamish, Ben and Group Bars Manager Lachy Sturrock to discuss what makes the group different.
Applejack was only founded in 2011 but you have quickly created a group with 5 separate venues. How has it happened so quickly?
We founded the company with the vision of creating a boutique hospitality group of 5 venues in 5 years. It may seem to some like blind ambition but we were confident that by creating cash positive venues, with careful consideration to our overheads, we could use the profits made from each venue to grow the next. We took on little debt, found sites with the right rents and focused on markets we understood to ensure they were a success from the get-go. All venues were built with our own blood sweat and tears to keep costs down and to ensure the level of detail required was on point. We hired legends who understood the game plan and went from there! Since we started we have successfully sold our first venture and currently have 4 restaurants, a brew pub and 2 cafes that we are extremely proud of.
All your venues are distinctly different from each other and have their own story. How have you balanced creating efficiencies across the group and ensuring each venue stays uniquely different?
Whilst each of the venues are extremely different and unique of one another, the way we manage the back end of the operations for each business is exactly the same for all of them. Having a very strong structure around the way we manage our costs, induct and train the team along with the way we manage and deliver service has allowed us to ensure nothing gets missed from an operational perspective. It also guarantees we maintain a high level of constituency across the park. The way we are structured enables us to enjoy the economies of scale benefitted only to groups. We utilise software that assists us with reporting and helps us manage our stock and track financial performance but one of the key elements of our success has been to have strong book keeping processes, accounting advice and legal support; all of which is outsourced to leaders within their fields who specialise in hospitality. We have a small but strong head office team that focuses on our people, our product and marketing. This team has grown over the years based on requirements needed for growth.
Founders Hamish & Ben seem to place a large focus on the right people, does that extend to choosing suppliers you deal with?
We approach our suppliers in the same manner as we do our staff. If a supplier believes in what we do, are generally good people by nature and are willing to work with us, not against us, then its on. Plenty of suppliers, in general, try to push their agenda onto an operator which simply doesn’t sit with our style or the way that we like to work. Pushy and bullish types don’t last long with us and we have become better with vetting them early on these days. Plenty of our suppliers have been with us from the very start. We love to support those that support us and feel no different from them as we do our own team. We communicate to all of our team that we afford all our suppliers the same level of respect as they afford us to make sure we have strong relationships with them. Delivery drivers, accounts people, reps, they are all the same to us. One team, one dream and all that.
What’s important to you when selecting your beer range?
Whilst the beer category isn’t the largest component of our beverage offering across most of our venues, selecting a concise beer list is still very important. The most important aspects we assess when looking at a beer list is identify the demographic of our clientele (has it changed since we wrote the previous menu), what’s currently trending in the beer market, finally and probably the easiest yet most important tool – we look at our sales and identify what sold really well, as well as those that maybe didn’t hit the mark.
What other trends are you seeing emerge in people’s drink choices?
One of the biggest trends we are seeing at the moment is a reduction in large consumption of alcohol, and educated choices on brands. Don’t get me wrong – people are still going out, having a good time and drinking. What I think we are seeing is customers are making educated choices now on WHAT they drink. People are leaning towards lower ABV options, or opting for a quality drink – be it a beer, cocktail or wine – over the cheapest rail spirit or happy hour tap. Quality over quantity.