6 essential tips from Applejack Hospitality on opening a venue

Hamish Watts and Ben Carroll are the pair behind Applejack Hospitality, which has opened four venues – Bondi Hardware (pictured below), SoCal, The Botanist and The Butler –in as many years. Here, they offer up some key advice for would-be operators:

  1. Get experience first. Both Carroll and Watts had careers in hospitality and held positions in a high profile pub group, meaning that when it came time to bite the bullet and start their own venture the pair had a solid and varied background in most aspects of venue management. “What we learned during our whole careers has helped,” says Carroll. “Hamish did a lot of café work when he was younger, then worked in different bars and restaurants, and we’ve got a really broad range of skill sets and between us we have different skills.”
  2. Find a site first and then build a concept around it. Don’t try to do it the other way around. See what a building offers you before trying to shoehorn a preconceived concept into it. With their first venue Bondi Hardware, Watts explains they first found a site that ticked a lot of boxes for them. “Once we realised what the building’s bones had, and what we could turn it into, we came up with the Hardware concept,” he says.
  3. Negotiate a favourable lease. “Make sure you’re not setting yourself up with onerous leases,” says Carroll. “It becomes easier when you’ve got a bit of credibility as an operator and the landlord wants you in there. But we can now negotiate a lease where we’ve got a good amount of time for the rent free period, we get some capital to put in to fix up all the mechanical services and those sorts of things. Making sure you’re not spending too much money – it’s great if you’ve got a venue that is turning over plenty of money but if you’re paying the landlord a large portion of that then you’re setting yourself up for failure.”
  4. Don’t over capitalise. Carroll says: “Work out your return on investment, how much you’re actually putting in to begin with and how long it’s going to take to pay it off. You don’t want to be overinvesting and trying to get your money back in 10 years’ time, because the shelf life on a lot of these bars and restaurants isn’t 10 years in the current climate.”
  5. Keep a tight lid on costs and ensure you do everything within your means. “A lot of guys when they’re starting out want to go and buy the best of everything – they want to buy new and all their furniture needs to be new,” says Watts. “We were very careful with that and we still are today.”
  6. Get organised. It’s easier said than done of course but try to set up everything correctly from the beginning. “Be organised through the whole build process,” Carroll says. “Having it all ready to go before you hit the start button means you can save a lot of money and time.”


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