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Head For The Hills

A big new suburb deserves a big new pub.

 
Gregory Hills Hotel:
14-26 Lasso Rd, Gregory Hills NSW
www.facebook.com/gregoryhillshotel

Thousands upon thousands of new homes. Way out west, near where Sydney’s M5 runs into the M7, a new suburb has sprouted. It’s called Gregory Hills, and it’s attracting middle class families seeking homes they can afford. The subdivision is joined by an industrial estate along with a private medical centre… and now a large, well-appointed pub.

“We looked at the site five years ago and it was a paddock,” noted Justin Malouf.

It’s accurate to say that the Malouf brothers’ (Jamie, Justin and Ed) Royal Hotel Group got in early. Recognising the opportunity, the developers worked with the group to include a prime corner site for a pub into the masterplan.

The council also recognised the importance of such a venue and the pub was quickly given the go-ahead without fuss.

“Three years on, the housing estate went crazy,” continued Justin.

Crazy is right. Within one kilometre of the pub are some 15,000 houses. And word has it that within eight years there will be another 30,000 homes within a eight kilometre radius. What’s more, Sydney’s second airport will be finally established only 4.5km away — yes, I know, I’ll believe it when I see it too. So to say this is a ‘growth corridor’ is an understatement.

A PUB OF TWO HALVES

The Maloufs are experienced, astute operators. They’ve been running pubs for quite some time with a portfolio that includes the Royal Oak in Double Bay, Wattle Grove Hotel, and the Caves Beachside Hotel north of Sydney. They knew exactly the pub they needed for the area. Or, as project architect Ania Bergstrom put it with some admiration: “the Maloufs knew exactly what they wanted and drove the design from the beginning.”

What they wanted was a pub comprised of, effectively, two distinct venues — connected but separate.

Justin Malouf: “The brief was for a big western suburbs-style pub with a top quality fitout. Ideally it’d be two pubs within one — the sports and gaming section on one side and the family and lounge/entertainment/food on the other side.”

It’d need to be a big pub, one that could accommodate an influx of families on the weekend. And food would be the prime driver.

Such a large build needed experience in the construction phase. “We were extremely happy with our architect and construction partners, Bergstrom and New England Constructions,” noted Jamie Malouf. “We gave New England Constructions a very clear and specific deadline and they built the pub ahead of time and on budget. It was a very headache-free process.”

“We were very keen on hitting the right date and they were amazing,” concurred Ed Malouf. “It went from paddock to finished venue in nine months, which is incredible really.”

“To build 180 car spaces and a nearly 2500sqm hotel in nine months is pretty damn good,” agreed Jamie. “Every day counts from our point of view.”

Gregory Hills Hotel was delivered under a Construction Management (CM) arrangement. It’s a different approach and one we’re likely to see more of. CM allows the client maximum flexibility in the design and to respond to market trends. In this case, the project was able to start early while detailed interior design documentation was being completed, therefore allowing the hotel to open months ahead of a conventional ‘lump sum, hard dollars’ tender process

The CM arrangement provides a high level of transparency and flexibility while minimising the cost exposure. Often when projects go out to tender the builder provides a price with little room to move — changes result in variations and friction regarding costs. Ultimately this is the biggest benefit of a CM arrangement in that it defuses those client/builder tensions, allowing changes to happen seamlessly with minimum cost exposure.  Ed Malouf again: “The project was delivered four weeks ahead of schedule as promised, the budget was maintained as promised and the level of quality exceeded what was promised. New England Constructions is a builder you can trust who operates with integrity and commitment.” High praise, indeed.

YIN & YANG OF BIG PUB DESIGN & OPS

Touring the new pub with GM John Payne, it’s really quite an awesome operation to behold. All the Fantasy Big Modern Pub boxes have been ticked:

Two principal entrances access the two key halves of the hotels. The ‘restricted’ side is more opulent with a water feature and access to the TAB sports bar and the Paul Kelly-designed gaming room.

On the opposite side of the building, a family-friendly entrance marches straight into the cavernous, shared bistro and lounge bar area. Carlton Fresh beer tanks greet you at the door overhead, directing your vision to the vaulted ceiling with the contrasting colour of the beams providing some definition and perspective.

There is a panoply of seating alternatives — high and low, plush and timber — supplied by BSeated, Cafe Culture and Prototype. An Eco-Smart ethanol fireplace sits centrally to further break up the large interior volume, and the adjacent chesterfields are a perfect complement.

“You might think the job of selecting the furniture could be given to a junior in the office,” observed Ania Bergstrom. “But that’s impossible. There are expectations around durability, lead times, looks, feel… if it doesn’t feel right no one will use it. We ensure our clients sit on a sample… kick it, move it, really test it to make sure their expectations are met. I’m really happy with our choice.”

ENGINE ROOM

The engine room of the operation is the kitchen. It’s comprised of a two-line, double conveyor belt system with prep area, four combi ovens, pizza maker, separate wash area, walk-in cool room, walk-in freezer… More than 20 staff keep it zinging in peak time. 

And it’s been zinging. Only two weeks young when venue first visited, the Gregory Hills Hotel was enjoying a baptism of fire. Busy all week but absolutely teeming on the weekend, customers were happily joining 20m queues to order lunch — “customer feedback was the service was great, even if the wait was unavoidable,” said John.

The CUB Fresh beer move has paid off. The hotel goes through two tanks a week along with a futher 70 kegs of beer a week. There are 19 beers on tap including six craft varieties that go particularly well on Sunday afternoons.

We knew the market was there but didn’t think they’d all hit our hotel in the first few weeks

LADIES FIRST

The pub has been designed with families in mind: The ladies’ bathroom has a generous eight cubicles. The unisex bathroom/baby changing room has a regularly changed nappy disposal unit. The pub has invested in a jumpy castle, which they inflate and staff on a weekend. There is an outdoor kids’ play area with plenty of seating for parents to relax and supervise. The Nightlife Music playlist is big on non-confronting family favourites and there’s a strict ‘no DJ’ policy. There’s a stage in the alfresco area where a cover band will entertain the whole family on a monthly basis (first cab off the rank was a Pink cover band which had 30-odd kids dancing around in delight). The alfresco areas are vast and generously heated by dozens of Bromic units — gas, electrical/infra-red depending on the location — for year-round comfort.

The pub is a masterclass in contemporary family pub design. The bistro and lounge bar is super family friendly but not at the expense of style and adult utility — at no point do you feel you’ve walked into a ‘McDonalds with beer’. The adult side of the venue, with the smart yet conservatively-themed sports bar and the glamorous gaming area, is an oasis in itself. It’s the yin and yang of big suburban pubs and clubs and the Gregory Hills Hotel looks to have found the exact right balance.

DEEP END

The Gregory Hills Hotel team has learnt a lot about itself and its freshly-minted venue in a very short time. It feels that there isn’t a single man, woman, child and pet in the postcode who hasn’t dropped by to check if it’s a pub they can call their own. Pub management has done its best to please while recognising it wasn’t attempting to be the trendiest place in town (sorry 18-25 year olds, but at least you’ve got a great parma ’n’ pot staging post before hitting the town). The pinch points were illuminated immediately (getting the meals ordered, prepared and taken to table more quickly has been the main biggest challenge) and the blow torch was applied to staff — demonstrating who was in it for the long haul.

venue asked Ed and Jamie Malouf if they were surprised by the initial numbers.

Ed Malouf: It’s certainly showed there there was the demand. A new suburb needs a hotel.

Jamie Malouf: We knew the market was there but didn’t think they’d all hit our hotel in the first few weeks! We’re also aware that we’re not the only place in town, and as the population keeps growing there’s scope for other hospitality options.

Ed: It has thrown us into the deep end. It’s been important that we listen to the community so they’ve got buy-in — this is the community’s pub.

Jamie: Operationally, the pub works well. When it’s really busy, when you have lots of staff on, with plenty of security, good direction of managers — particularly in the bistro when there’s a 20m line and you need to keep people’s patience — the pub really sings.

Ed: Even though there’s just one bar in the bistro/lounge area there are plenty of service points. The main stress point has been the food and the kitchen. We’re working on that and now we’re aware of the demand, it’s about being ready.

CONTACTS

New England Constructions:
(02) 9369 1241 or www.newenglandconstructions.com.au

Bergstrom Architects:
(02) 8920 1499 or www.bergstromarchitects.com.au

ALFRESCO HEATING OPTIONS

Gas or electricity? Depends.

The outdoor areas of the Gregory Hills Hotel is vast and hugely important to the pub’s operations. Maintaining patrons’ comfort in cooler months or in a stiff breeze is crucial, so selecting the right heater and the right position for the heaters was crucial as well.

The two main outdoor heater types are gas and radiant electrical. Both have their pros and cons and both are used at the Gregory Hills Hotel.

In the more exposed areas the pub has installed Bromic electrical/infra-red heaters. They’re quite energy efficient and being radiant thermal heating, as opposed to convection heating, they provide the same natural heat effect as the sun, warming people and objects rather than air. Bromic radiant heaters produce a soft, ambient light and are safe to mount under shade sails, umbrellas and timber awnings. These radiant heaters also contain a quartz element, which means that heat can be controlled by movement sensors, eliminating the need for staff to constantly turn them on and off. Given Australia’s coastal climate, it’s imperative that outdoor radiant heaters are wind and water resistant — such as anti-corrosive aluminium or steel.

Elsewhere, the venue has used Bromic Platinum Smart Heat Gas heaters, which are slim, streamlined and have a brushed stainless steel finish. The burners are protected behind high-temperature translucent ceramic, which not only shields flames from wind, but also transforms the obtrusive red glare emitted by traditional natural gas heating burners into a warm red blur. The Platinum Smart Heat Gas-softened glow doesn’t compromise heat output, either. The three-burner Smart Heat Gas (Platinum 300) has a range of up to 12sqm and a heat output of 25MJ, and the five-burner Platinum 500 has a range of up to 20sqm and a heat output of 42MJ. The heater’s wall mount allows management to pivot and direct the heat as desired. What’s more, despite being gas heaters, they have electric ignition — one or multiple units can be switched on and off simultaneously from a single remote-located switch.

Bromic: (02) 9426 5222 or www.bromic.com.au