24/06/2010 - 00:00

Revamp of historic proportions

24/06/2010 - 00:00

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Guildford’s Rose & Crown Hotel has undergone a significant upgrade during the past six years, but owners Mark and Tracey Weber haven’t finished yet. Russell Quinn reports.

Revamp of historic proportions

RESTORING a heritage property to its former glory can be an expensive and time-consuming exercise.

But it’s a challenge enthusiastically taken on by Mark and Tracey Weber, who have extensively renovated Western Australia’s oldest hotel during the past six years, and have even more elaborate plans in the pipeline.

Mrs Weber says her husband’s efforts at Guildford’s Rose & Crown Hotel are all about passion.

“He won’t sit still, that’s the thing, and he’s always drawing at home, still mucking around at 2am,” she told Gusto.

The Webers are interior designers by trade – Mr Weber’s MW Design previously fitted out Perth hospitality venues including Matilda Bay Restaurant, while Mrs Weber’s Interior Fayre specialises in soft furnishings – so it’s understandable that the grandeur of the almost 170-year-old building, erected by Thomas Jecks in 1841, immediately attracted their attention.

The pair’s love of the region and their desire to operate a local hospitality business led them to purchase the hotel (with four accommodation rooms upstairs, one large function room, a kitchen, restaurant and a sunken beer garden) for about $1 million in 2004.

“We’d been looking in the area for a bed and breakfast to buy but hadn’t had much luck,” Mr Weber says.

“So we walked in and fell in love with it. Within three days we’d signed a deal.”

Unfortunately the hotel immediately fell into receivership and then liquidation while waiting for the liquor licence to be transferred across from the previous owner, which usually takes around four to six weeks.

The Inchant Brewing Company located onsite also wound up shortly after the purchase when it became clear it would be too difficult to make it a viable operation.

“It was pretty risky at the time, we had our house and everything on the line,” Mr Weber says.

“But I always believed in the area, I always felt there was a requirement for something of a better standard out here without going too far upmarket – something for the everyday guy to go to where he didn’t have to worry about ducking punches.”

Shortly after the Webers had formally taken possession and began assessing priority restoration projects, the scale of renovations required was highlighted by an accident on site – a fridge fell through the rotten wooden floorboards into the damp cellar below.

“There was lots of hidden stuff, even as a designer and being aware of what it costs to do a fit-out, we were shocked at how much it cost,” Mr Weber says.

“We’ve probably put about $3 million into it over the six years.”

However, the first two years of ownership coincided with the greatest property boom in the state’s history, which helped to alleviate some of the restoration costs thanks to the support of the Webers’ bank and some (albeit limited) assistance from the Heritage Council.

While Mr Weber suggests delays with the City of Swan’s approvals for the improvements was a key challenge, the biggest challenge was learning the business.

“I tried running it under management for a time and other things but in the end you have to do the 100 hours per week yourself,” he says.

After buying the neighbouring 28-room motel in 2007 for just under $3 million, Mr Weber says revenues across both businesses has grown from $500,000 a year in 2004 to about $6 million, employing up to 75 people in peak season.

“All your profit is there (in the motel), there’s no profit here, it’s very fine margins,” he says.

And the pair suggests success would not have been possible without their staff, a fact recognised when 14 employees were rewarded with a trip to Bali in February.

Over the past six years, the Webers have redesigned the main kitchen three times and plan to build a satellite kitchen with an outdoor pizza oven at one end of the old camel stables (earmarked for future use as function rooms after recent renovations) as well as another freestanding bar.

They’ve also renovated the onsite chapel and the neighbouring White Barn, upgraded the downstairs cellar and brought in botanist and friend, Margie Clemmer, to raise and extend the sunken beer garden.

And there’s still more to come.

“The thing about heritage is getting people to use all the spaces available,” Mr Weber says.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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