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Bartenders realise dreams from Speakeasy program support

Bartenders Pez Collier and Alex Boon’s dreams of becoming bar owners became a reality recently. The pair were participants in the Speakeasy Group’s 2019/20 Pathway to Partnership Program and had their cocktail bar concept Pearl Diver Cocktails and Oysters chosen to receive $250,000 in set-up support.

The Speakeasy Group’s Pathway to Partnership Program launched September 2019 after the innovative and entrepreneurial program was announced in early June the same year. Eight participants from a talented pool of hospitality professionals were selected to take part in the nine month-long mentorship program before submitting their final proposals for review by Speakeasy Directors Greg Sanderson and Sven Almenning.

The successful proposal enables the participants to open their very own venue with the support, mentoring and financial backing of The Speakeasy Group alongside Almenning and Sanderson. Sanderson said the program was a joy to run and it was incredible to see both the passion the teams have for hospitality as well as their determination to really give this opportunity a go.

Almenning added during the program, participants were taught about opening bars, running bars, managing teams, marketing, back of house financial responsibilities, as directors and co owners, and a lot of the corporate business.

He said: “We teach them about forecasting, and planning and business plans. And then, after nine months, we evaluate them a bunch of things like that homework, they got books to read, they got case studies to go through. They go to shadow managers and venues and we build up a report on how they’re performing. Then we finish the year with them submitting not just the work they’ve been doing throughout the year, but also a concept for a venue.”

Almenning was adamant while there has been one pair selected so far, it would not stop Speakeasy from investing again within the first pool of applicants.

“The thing with the way this works is that it’s not Idol. It’s not that there has to be just one winner. We have loads of good concepts that came in and lots of great people so we might decide later in the year to go fuck it, ‘you know what we’re going to activate? second concept from that pool’.

“Running the program does two things, it helps us grow our business. But also, it gives us a way to help great industry professionals realise their dream of becoming a venue owner, which is very difficult to do without capital.”

Collier and Boon pitched their winning concept PDCO as an engaging, vibrant and fun cocktail and oyster bar specialising in seasonal produce-driven cocktails and the freshest oysters from around Australia.

The bar’s food offering centres around the simplicity and beauty of the oyster. They will champion local producers engaging directly with farmers to ensure consistent supply and the highest quality Australia has to offer.

The cocktails are pitched to change seasonally and like the approach to the food, they will highlight the best in local produce partnered with innovation and creativity. Each cocktail will hero a single ingredient. Not be outdone, the rest of the drink offering focuses on the art of pairing a drink to an oyster.

The two industry experts bring a wealth of knowledge and skill to the table bringing more than two decades worth of hospitality industry experience.

Pez grew his career through national and international success in competitive bartending, where his desire to own his own hospitality businesses was cemented. He then dedicated years to learning the ins and outs of hospitality management and ownership, and his involvement in more than 13 venue openings, allowed him to gain insight and experience.

Boon’s career also spans more than a decade, he displays an insatiable work ethic and depth of technical ability. He rose quickly through the bartending community by working in and growing a regular and dedicated clientele in notable establishments.

After moving to Melbourne to further his career, he partnered up with Speakeasy Group and became the Australian champion for Diageo’s World Class competition as well as being voted as Australia’s best bartender by Drinks World magazine. He is currently the Head of Mixology for Speakeasy.

Collier and Boon’s bar will be a 50/50 split of ownership according to the program specifications. They will also see the Speakeasy Group contributing 90 per cent of the start-up costs for up to $250,000 with Collier and Boon having to finance the remaining 10 per cent.

Bars and Clubs caught up with Collier and Boon yesterday to see how they’ve fared since receiving the good news. Here’s what they had to say:

How did you feel when you found out your bar concept was chosen?

It was pretty surreal if I’m honest, a lot of feelings hit at once – elation, relief, extreme excitement and a significant sense of achievement. We both went into the meeting feeling pretty nervous, we had put a great deal of time and effort into our concept and presentation and to find out that the guy were as excited about and believed in our concept as much as we do was really rewarding, humbling and gratifying. The feeling of needing to knock back a few glasses of fizz was also pretty strong.

How are things progressing so far?

Great so far, as we are navigating through these crazy covid times we are taking things as they come. Still on the hunt for the right venue, but pushing forward on a lot of planning and conceptualising as well as some of the more fundamental business admin components like forming the company, shareholders agreements, bank accounts etc. We have been working with amazing local artist and designer Yue Yamanaka on the logo and other brand identity elements which we are excited to share moving forward. 

How have you gone with finding a venue?

We are still looking for the right space at the moment, hopefully we will be locking a space down in the not-too-distant future. Finding a great space for PDCO is hugely important to us, so we are happy to keep searching for the right one. We have been attending a few inspections each week and have some promising leads so hopefully it won’t be long until we find the right space for our concept.

What was the inspiration for the bar?

I think the inspiration has always been to create a venue we would love to go to as guests. We want to create a fun and engaging environment and deliver a unique experience in terms of product and service. Alex and I both have a long-standing love for well-crafted cocktails and oysters and we really want to champion that combination. We are lucky here in Australia in relation to the quality of produce available to us for using in food and drinks and we draw a lot of inspiration from these ingredients. Much of the concept is built around highlighting and emphasising the quality of these products, notably seasonal fruits and fresh oysters.

Do you have an idea what cocktails you will be serving and the atmosphere you want to create?

The PDCO Cocktail menu will be broken down into 3 sections:

Market: This section is all about seasonality! Cocktails created to highlight the freshest seasonal produce available at that time, we will be looking to change this menu once a month or so. Cocktails in this section will be fresh and fruit forward, vibrant and lively.

Signature: This section is all about highlighting the creativity of the team and offers us an opportunity to be more adventurous in terms of ingredients, preparations, techniques and delivery.  This part of the cocktail offering will change approximately twice a year.

House: This section is our re-worked classics section, where we break down some of our favourite drinks and rebuild them in the PDCO manner, without straying too far from the core elements of the original.

The Pearl Diver: We will also have our namesake cocktail available at all times also, once again we will be breaking down the classic recipe of Donn the Beachcomber’s tiki variation of a hot buttered rum and using the core elements to rebuild the drink in our own way.

The atmosphere we wish to create is one based on genuine hospitality and good times, first and foremost we want to create a space were everyone feels welcome and comfortable to enjoy themselves. Whether you love or hate oysters you are always welcome to come in for a great drink, a chat and a great time.

Are you guys nervous/excited about going from bartenders to bar owners?

Many of my favourite Australian bars are owned or part owned by bartenders ( Bulletin Place, Above Board, the Made in the Shade group for example) and the transition really excites me, and feels like a natural progression for us at this stage of our hospitality journeys. We see it more as absorbing more responsibility and the potential for more influence rather than fulfilling a completely different role as we will be extremely hands on, with both of us working in the venue day in day out, in a full time capacity, as well as being involved in the ownership of the brand.

Having Sven and Greg as mentors to help guide us through that transition will be invaluable, as they have both successfully navigated similar experiences.

What does the support from Speakeasy mean to you?

Firstly, it means we can bring our dream venue to life, furthermore the mentorship and guidance from Sven, Greg and the whole Speakeasy family offers us a truly unique experience for opening our first venue. Being long term, established operators they offer us insight and knowledge in many elements of venue ownership and operations, which may have been unavailable to us if we were opening Pearl Diver by ourselves. The fact that the Speakeasy Group put in 90% of the start up investment for a 50% ownership share really highlights how supportive they are in helping us bring our concept to life and we are both hugely appreciative and thankful for such an opportunity.  

What did you learn from the Pathway to Partnership program?

The Pathway to Partnership program gave us an opportunity to learn the ins and outs of opening a venue through the experiences of Sven and Greg and the Speakeasy Group. From financial forecasting modules through to business structures and building brand identity, it was an honest reflection upon their experiences (the good and the bad) in building their brands and venues. We also covered important topics such as Human Resources, building budgets, leadership and successful management practices which will no doubt be useful to us moving forward.

Do you have a rough timeline on when you want to open PDCO?

We are hoping to find a venue in the next few months and get the doors open as soon as realistically possible, we predict we will be looking around mid-year for opening. There is still a fair bit lot of uncertainty in the market down here in Melbourne at the moment so we aren’t looking to rush into anything, and we are hoping that upcoming covid vaccines will heighten consumer confidence and help us successfully launch the venue. We cant wait to welcome everyone in, in the mean time please follow our journey on social media.

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