As a journalist for the bar industry, I’m the envy of many of my friends.
And when they ask what the best part of my job is, I reply that it’s the opportunity to meet incredibly passionate, talented and inspiring individuals and help tell their stories. Also, cocktails.
That love of the industry’s stories is strong across many – for Michael Willcocks and David Ward, it reminded them of sitting at the front bar having a yarn, listening to someone tell their story. The pair appreciated the value of these moments so much, they decided to capture its essence in their podcast, appropriately called The Front Bar.
Willcocks described how they got started and said: “Dave and myself, we had been really good mates for quite some time… we worked together professionally and were also mates, and we’ve both been avid podcast listeners.”
“There’s been a few really good podcasts tailored to the drinks industry and some around the fringes of hospitality, but there wasn’t something that was that broad look into the stories behind the people who are hospitality in Australia.”
So last year they set out to change this, releasing their first episode in September which featured special guest Richard Adamson of Young Henrys. Over the coming months they released four more episodes with guests from across different parts of the industry and country.
But then the COVID-19 pandemic hit our shores and amidst the uncertainty and tough times of the on-premise shut down, Willcocks and Ward put The Front Bar on hold.
“Working in businesses affected by [COVID-19], so we put it down for a moment, and we just jumped on there to have a look at the stats and listenership and it had jumped during that time. We’d only done a handful of episodes but there were a lot of people listening in when we weren’t promoting it,” Willcocks explained.
Seeing the interest in what the Front Bar could offer to people going through arguably the toughest time that our industry has faced as a collective, Willcocks and Ward started to do new episodes and are aiming to release one per week. Just like before the pandemic, they want to focus on telling people’s stories in the hope that it can help listeners who may be struggling right now.
“We’ve had some people on there such as Marcello Colosimo of Momento Hospitality and Alistair Flower of Flower Hotels who are both fairly well respected people in the industry and people really like to hear what they’ve got to say, particularly at a time around this whole pandemic. It’s hurt a lot of businesses, so it’s good to hear from people who are in the situation, be it pub operators or brewers, and just find out how they’re approaching this difficult time,” Willcocks said.
“I think everyone’s a bit confused about what they’re going to do, particularly perhaps around reopening or the takeaway option if it’s something they haven’t done before, so it’s good to hear from people who are doing it and having a little bit of success in a tough time.
“But we don’t want the show to be all about COVID-19, it’s obviously the topic at the moment, but we want to start talking about the success stories of people coming out of this situation and seeing success again. And we want other people to hear those stories and be inspired about how to reopen and start trading again.”
As for future episodes along these lines, we can expect to hear from some respected bartenders, publicans and hoteliers, as well as those behind the scenes of the hospitality industry. Willcocks also said they’re open to hearing any stories that people are willing to tell, and have already been contacted by some people to do so.
He said: “People who work in hospitality often are very good storytellers, and there’s always a bit of humour attached to some of those, and it would be great to hear from people who’d like to jump on.”