Coast is Clear
The reborn Headlands Hotel makes the most of the vistas.
Story: Christopher Holder
(02) 4200 1099 or headlandshotel.com.au
Headland Avenue, Austinmer NSW
If the only rule of real estate that really matters is ‘location location location’, then the Headlands Hotel has it all. The development is located on 1 Headland Ave, Austinmer, just north of Wollongong, and enjoys uninterrupted views up and down the coast. The location is an absolute cracker.
Getting the project off the ground wasn’t easy. This wasn’t the first Headlands Hotel. The original ‘much loved’ hotel had to be demolished to make way for the brand new $25m project, and developers John Stevens and Graeme Charles (of the Stevens Group) spent years banging heads with the council and a number of vocal locals.
But one suspects that even the most ardent critic must, even begrudgingly, admit the new Headlands Hotel has a lot going for it: apartment-style accommodation, extensive function spaces, and a bar and bistro that makes the absolute most of the 180-degree vistas.
To be more precise the development consists of three buildings: the hotel with its four bars, bistro, function room upstairs (which seats nearly 400); and the two holiday accommodation blocks consisting of 61 studio, and one- and two-bedroom apartments which are under strata title.
It makes Headlands Hotel very flexible indeed. As you can imagine, wedding planners have immediately cottoned onto the possibilities, as have conference organisers. Meanwhile the pub has been an instant hit since its opening in December 2016.
“We were inundated with people. Would I recommend opening a week-and-a-half before Christmas? No, I would not.”
We spoke to hotel manager, Andrew Biggs, a 28-year hospitality veteran, who was given the formidable task of launching the Headlands Hotel.
Andrew Biggs: “We’ve hired close to 100 staff over the last few months, learning new systems, new equipment, new processes, everything was new. It was a real eye-opener. Finding experienced staff in those numbers in the Illawarra region was impossible. We’ve brought on plenty of completely inexperienced staff, but some of those have proven to be our best.”
venue: Amazing views; great new facilities; people will quite reasonably expect a high level of service, I imagine?
Andrew Biggs: That’s right. For us it’s all about the views and trying to match those views with our service and our offering. We’re attracting a broad range of people, often a mature crowd, a more discerning crowd, definitely a dining crowd. Our lunches are busy. Sunday lunch, you’re lucky to find a spare seat.
venue: You must have back of house running to catch up then?
Andrew Biggs: We can be doing a thousand meals for lunch, and our function kitchen upstairs is set up to cater for 400 plates. During peak periods our main bar can be assisted by the sports bar behind it.
venue: The alfresco areas are extensive.
Andrew Biggs: The main bar has two balcony areas that can be enclosed when the weather’s not great.
venue: Uninterrupted clifftop views of the Pacific can come at a price. I imagine you’d be buffeted in bad weather?
Andrew Biggs: You’re right. Because we sit so far out on the headland there’s nowhere to hide. But depending on whether it’s a northerly or a southerly blowing, our customers can retreat to the other end of the venue and still enjoy being outdoors protected by the building. But sure, if the weather gets really bad it can knock out areas of operation, but we can shut those down easily enough.
venue: Keeping people comfortable for as long as possible outdoors means paying attention to the heating.
Andrew Biggs: And we did — heating was high on the agenda very early on. The heating needed to be effective, even in windy conditions, and couldn’t impinge on the views in any way — we didn’t want any ugly, red strips or big, black bars hanging down.
The Bromic heating is flush-mounted into the ceiling. In fact, rather than being an eyesore they’ve become bit of a talking point: “Oh what’s that? That looks nice.” So they’re virtually unrecognisable as heaters and they’re very effective.
Bromic came out on site and consulted on the design. It was important we cover as much of the areas as we could. We went through a properly documented heating plan while the project was still a shell. Then Bromic returned when the building work had progressed to go through the plan again and ensure the design was the best one.
venue: You’re a couple of months into operations. Do you ever get tired of those views?
Andrew Biggs: No. In fact, I’m still surprised by the views at times… “Oh wow, I get to work here every day!”
But it has been a real baptism of fire. I’m very proud of our team. We have many staff, some totally inexperienced, who have really stepped up. Our biggest challenge is probably to maintain a high level of consistent quality in our food offering. With different chefs and different shifts we do have to maintain our concentration there.
Steven Bayer from Edmiston Jones GBB architects outlines the challenge of designing the Headlands Hotel.
Steven Bayer: The challenge was to maximise the location: designing a venue with an appropriate response to sun and wind especially.
Then there was the challenge of responding to the client brief and user requirements. A big part of that was designing a venue that provided quality hospitality and be a genuine food venue.
The response was to focus on excellent integration of internal and external spaces and for Headlands Hotel to be easy to run for the operator — to function efficiently.
The alfresco spaces cater to a variety of uses and patrons. There’s a lot of glass and overhanging roof so you can spend time outside but undercover. The glass and the external fabric is operable — so you can close off large section depending on the prevailing wind conditions.
The more formal restaurant end of the ground floor has a lower ceiling and offers a more intimate atmosphere. The informal bistro is more open with a raked ceiling providing a lighter feel.
The perimeter of the venue is reserved for the customer while the core of the venue is for services. Keeping the kitchen and services in the centre allows for more efficient use of staff resources, with shorter travel distances for staff.
Edmiston Jones GBB: www.aej.com.au
The Bromic Platinum Smart-Heat Electric excels in efficiency, packing high performance into a sleek package. Headlands Hotel has integrated the heaters into the eaves and ceilings of outdoor spaces. The Bromic Platinum Smart-Heat Electric is slimline enough to function in this way and has a recess kit specially for this type of application. Each unit heats up to 6sqm. Bromic is happy to work with the client on a heating design, look at plans and visit a proposed site.
Bromic: 1800 301 1293 or bromicheating.com