Written by Mitchell Dunning (Former Venue Manager)
I received a call from David Kitchen late 2017 asking if I would come and have a chat about the opportunity of opening an alehouse and kitchen with Ballistic Beer. Coincidentally, I'd been considering career options. I had tasted the beer, I had met Lachlan Crothers (Head Brewer) and Luke Phillips (National Sales Manager), and I had visited the brewery. The sum of all of those things was an overwhelming sense of excitement and nervousness at the chance of being considered for the role.
I drove to what was then, a bar called Pour Choices to meet David. We spoke about me and the prospect on the table, a little of what the very loose vision was. My immediate thoughts on the bar was a that it had a really nice skeleton regardless of what was on the outside at the time. The industrial nature of the building was immediately apparent, which suited perfectly. My vision was slightly more grand than David’s from the onset. I returned a few times afterwards of my own accord to scope and plan.
Months went by with no contact. One night in Feb of 2018 I drove to West End to pick up a piece of furniture, I swung by the bar and saw Pour Choices there, untouched. I figured David had decided to go another direction. The very next day, I kid you not, I see the name David Kitchen calling my phone and I thought, “you’ve got to be kidding, how weird”. I got the news things were moving ahead and that I should stay ready. I could have burst! How cool!
We began to work ceaselessly on what this bar should be; its core values, the products, the layout, the service and of course, food. Many ideas were thrown around, dumplings, pizzas, boilermakers, english pub grub. This was to be an inclusive, welcoming environment for the local community, a place where you can feel comfortable at any time of day and in any mood. We were going to support the wonderful produce of Australia, having a selection of excellent Australian wine, spirits and beer. Our food needed to be beer orientated. Beer is just as gastronomical as any drink.
I believe if you can’t do something to a really high standard, don’t do it. Cocktails weren’t an option, I was a cocktail bartender in a past life and I know first hand how difficult it is to make a consistent, high quality, inventive cocktail. Same boat for coffee. Leave the cocktails to Cobbler and the coffee to Cheeky Bean, they do it to a high degree. Beer is our thing and it always will be. Our staff need to be highly educated in order to educate our customers. The vast majority of people are still learning what beer can be in Australia. We aren’t here just to cater to the established core, we're looking to expand the horizons of the entire scene. That is the whole reasoning behind the Alehouse and Kitchen. It's an approachable location for all! Not ready to dive into that 8.5% Double IPA at 100 IBU? That’s fine, take this gold medal winning lager. Don’t forget to come back when you might be ready for that first glass of Double IPA though, we will gladly oblige.
We entered the space and began to plan how, what, when and why. A note was made on how the brewing had a slight English influence due to Lachy's past, which is something we chose to draw upon in the design of the space and the concept, but not let it dominate. We were born and bred in an industrial warehouse in Brisbane’s south and that community and roots had given us everything. Let’s stay true to what we said.
One of our biggest fears in setting up the bar was a lack of production from the location in the past. It was a huge limiter for us, we just weren’t sure if this was the right location. We certainly wanted a local bar for the West End resident, away from the hustle and bustle of Boundary St. That's what had driven success in Salisbury, growing with the community. Was Montague Rd ready for us? These worries had us balking at every turn. If we sought to invest more money and manpower, would we see the benefit of investment? It certainly crossed our mind most when looking at chef candidates. Could we get enough people through the door to pay a talented chef what they deserve?
We needed a chef, ASAP! We organised some interviews and had just about the broadest and most interesting candidates you can imagine. We put some thought to it and there was one person we all decided truly stood out, his food vision went beyond ours but if we could get him, we wanted him.
Nick changed our vision on what the bar would be, he took us from a neighbourhood bar to something more. A neighbourhood bar with a great chef! He stood for a lot of the values that I believe in hospitality; not being overworked, fair pay for fair work, a higher standard of service. He also brought a lot of experience to us, not just having run his own restaurant previously, but life experience and a diverse background. Unfortunately he couldn’t be there truly until about 4 days before open. CRAP!
The next day David, Lachy, and Luke, the three key individuals to the company all said “We're off to drink beer in America and have fun. You’ve got two weeks. Oh, and don’t stuff this up.” And they all skipped away holding hands. That’s how I remember it anyway.
Over the next two weeks every waking moment was dedicated to the bar. There was a due date and it wasn’t going to budge for anyone. It was the actual definition of chaos. We had a bar that needed to be built, walls to be painted, a lot of furniture to build, signage to be made and hung, menus to design and print, lighting to be wired, mirrors to be fixed, accounts to be set up with suppliers, a kitchen that needed to be rearranged, equipment that needed to be installed. The list was immense and only slightly longer than the list of setbacks that were to come.
One example was when we were building our own tables and had ordered legs for them. I started chasing them up when we started getting really desperate for them to arrive. They had been sitting in a warehouse for a week not being delivered for no other reason than "we didn’t think to deliver them". We had ordered high and low table legs, or so I thought. The ‘lower’ set of legs arrived and were no joke, less than 30cms tall. My brain almost leaked out of my ears at that point.
Our chippy Toni and his son Harrison were a big part of why this bar is here right now. Not just the fact that they built a lot of what we have in the bar, but they kept me going. Toni is a bit of a genius and an incredibly admirable person. He is an absolute character, instantly likeable with a heart of gold. The attitude and lightness they both brought to the situation not only made me come back and spend 16 hours here putting out fires and juggling 30 things at once, they made it enjoyable!
Easily the most intense and stressful experience of a lifetime. Nothing goes as expected, especially when your time constraints are so strict. Our vision and our goals are still being developed, we are still refining what we are as a venue. Five months down the track and I think we're really getting a hold of what it means to create a space for the local community. I have no delusions though, five months is just the beginning. Building a reputation takes years of hard work.