20/12/2005 - 21:00

New spin on Highgate icon

20/12/2005 - 21:00

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There is something old and something new about the recently revamped Beaufort Street Merchants in Highgate.

New spin on Highgate icon

There is something old and something new about the recently revamped Beaufort Street Merchants in Highgate.

Old in that it is the latest incarnation of the building that once housed Benjamin’s World Gourmet, a post-war food icon that serviced a budding Perth community with produce during an age of growth and growing expectations.

And new because, under proprietor Scott Taylor, it may just be a blueprint for the future of food and wine retail in Western Australia.

Having just returned from a six-year ‘pilgrimage’ to London, Mr Taylor sought a new challenge in Perth, and an opportunity to employ some of the skills he learned abroad.

Mr Taylor built a successful reputation with restaurant and hospitality experience via ownership stakes in venues in Notting Hill and a nightclub in Oxford.

But within a few hours of seeing the Beaufort Street property he knew it would be the site of his next venture.

The revamp of the Highgate building has focused on highlighting the business’s main assets. Making best use of the expansive floor space as well as a liquor licence in the heart of Beaufort Street, the business is taking on the appearance of the Benjamin’s of 50 years ago.

But hearing Mr Taylor describe the future of his business, it is clear that this is anything but an attempt at a typical convenience store, whatever the historical context.

“I want to focus more on the Marks & Spencers model, concentrating on accessibility, freshness and selling produce that requires limited preparation,” Mr Taylor explains.

That model, of course, is the basis for one of the most identifiable and successful formulas of food and wine retail in the UK. Giving this model an Australian feel involved importing a wide range of contemporary national gourmet products, such as Maggie Beer, Tetsuya’s and more.

Further still, Mr Taylor plans to push into the ‘ready-to-eat’ meals.

“I want them to be ready to eat but with a twist,” he says.

And while some Perth businesses have experimented with the cryovac system of rapidly chilling prepared meals, it has proved a difficult formula to market to consumers.

To date, suppliers of these meals haven’t successfully linked them to gourmet meal alternatives, while past systems of chilling food down led to food degradation.

And then there are the plans for the 55-seater café, approval for which has just been granted.

“I want it so close that you can reach out and touch Beaufort Street,” Mr Taylor says.

Other plans include a juice-cum-lunch bar to entice passing foot traffic and to dip into the health food craze.

And, of course, there is the wine. Last week, Mr Taylor was invited to address the Wine Industry Association’s Outlook Conference from a retailer’s perspective.

“I want to change the face of liquor retailing in Perth, make it abundantly approachable and accessible,” Mr Taylor says.

“It’s all about organising space to make it work.”

His growing wine list has a predominant local focus, and he aims to support fringe WA producers through association shines through with labels like Merum, Stella Bella and more.

But perhaps it is through his growing range of cleanskins that Mr Taylor represents a future of wine retail in Australia.

His Naked Bottle cleanskins feature everything from McLaren Vale grenache, Margaret River chardonnay and King Valley classic white. Even a range of cleanskin port and sherries feature as well.

And while the topic of cleanskins may not be popular around the table for wine producers, their incredibly low price points and usually reliable quality is clearest and most accessible sign to the consumer of the products of a wine glut.

So while he pursues liquor licence applications and business opportunities in Mount Hawthorn and Clarkson, Mr Taylor’s Beaufort Street Merchants may just be at the forefront of a quiet revolution of food and wine retail, where just having a adequate range isn’t enough.

“We owe it to the people to get it right, with a location like this, selling the products we are, we owe it to them, and it’s as simple as that,” he says.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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