16/12/2003 - 21:00

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16/12/2003 - 21:00

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Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group is well on the way to ensuring its infectious mix of food and drink becomes the first choice for Perth pub goers, as Julie-anne Sprague reports.

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THE normally media-shy Allan Jefferies, regional manager of Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group, was more than happy to sit down and chat about WA’s largest pub business last week, now that its operations have been cut free from Foster’s control.

Over lunch at The Queens – arguably ALH’s most successful WA pub and the place he first gained employment with the group – Mr Jefferies is surprisingly open about his agenda for newly listed entity in 2004.

Consolidating the three acquisitions ALH made this year is a top priority, he says, adding that he has high hopes for one of these in particular.

“The locations for opening up new venues is limited,” Mr Jefferies says.

“I had a five-year strategy to acquire one to five new venues. I’ve got three, so now it’s a matter of being selective and taking good opportunities. 

“We want to consolidate the three new pubs – Balmoral, The Vic and the Belgian Beer Café.

“The Balmoral feels very good to me. It reminds me of when this place [the Queens] was new. Give the Balmoral a few years and it’ll be as good as this.”

The Belgian Beer Café has recently won the right to serve its patrons alcohol in its alfresco area without the requirement to sell a substantial meal, but it was a hard-won concession, Mr Jefferies says.

“For that application [Belgian Beer Café] we had one resident complain. It took four months to resolve and it was a costly process,” he says.

“We had to have a hearing with the Liquor Licensing Court and it got through, but not without restrictions on how we can operate.”

Mr Jefferies says the complainant was worried about possible implications of letting the pub serve beer outdoors unaccompanied by a meal.

The resident thought other operators might do the same and might cause a disturbance, he says.

“We are the first alfresco pub to get this exemption.”

ALH operates 10 venues in Western Australia so it is not surprising that the requirement to submit an extended trading permit applications for each venue on every public holiday is something of a burden for Mr Jefferies.

“So many public holidays fall on a Monday and liquor licensing asks us to close at 10pm on the Sunday evening,” he says.

“Our customers don’t understand that; all they know is that there is no work the next day so they can relax a little, and in summer people don’t eat until late, which only makes it worse.

“Instead of having to apply every time to the authority it would be good to have it [extended trading approval] every time if you’ve demonstrated you do the right thing.”

And as an Australian Hotels’ Association WA committee member, Mr Jefferies is not too impressed by the Government’s plans to allow seven-day trading for bottle shops.

“We will lose market share. Is it inevitable? Probably.

“And we will manage that so that we improve what we do and we are the number one choice for consumers,” he says.

“What we want to see, though, is dialogue between the industry and government.”

Mr Jefferies is also perplexed at the idea that restaurants can function as a tavern yet open much longer trading hours.

“That is ridiculous to me. It means this place shuts up at midnight but the restaurant down the road can open until 3am and not serve any food, just drinks.”

But Mr Jefferies remains a firm believer that WA’s pub format works well. And he’s pleased the ALH group is utilising the talent he’s trained to do things better in its operations in other States.

“Marcus McQueen was the manager of Queens and he’s now managing Young and Jackson’s in Melbourne. Stuart Wheeler is about to open Three Degrees, which has a microbrewery in it as part of the $9 million refurbishment of that pub,” he says.

“Dana Richardson is the Queensland area manager and she’s taking our culture over there.

“We’re happily infecting the rest of the country.”

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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