28/06/2019 - 14:31

Seagrass seizes Perth opportunity

28/06/2019 - 14:31


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While many Perth hospitality operators are closing their doors, a national group is building a solid portfolio of restaurants and bars across the city.

Seagrass seizes Perth opportunity
Laurence Thorpe at Seagrass’s latest Perth venue, Hunter & Barrel Raine Square. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

National restaurants group Seagrass Boutique Hospitality views Perth as a market with unrealised potential, and has opened its fourth venue in the city as part of an aggressive Western Australian expansion.

Seagrass last month launched its second Hunter & Barrel restaurant in Perth, at Raine Square, taking a prime position in Charter Hall’s redeveloped precinct opposite Jamie’s Italian on William Street.

The meat and craft beverage-themed restaurant adds to a growing WA portfolio for Seagrass, which entered the market in 2015 with its highly popular Ribs & Burgers – a venue that trades better than any Ribs & Burgers-branded restaurant in Australia.

Since Ribs & Burgers’ entrance, Seagrass has steadily built its presence in Perth, introducing Meat & Wine to the old Palace Hotel on the corner of William Street and St Georges Terrace, along with another Hunter & Barrel-branded venue at Westfield Whitford City.

The company’s growth comes at a time when many long-standing Perth hospitality operators have succumbed to a combination of high rents and heightened competition, with prominent real estate agent Peter Peard’s California Pizza Kitchen among the latest high-profile venues to shut its doors.

California Pizza Kitchen’s demise follows the struggles experienced by Beaufort Street hospitality operators, with the owners of several popular venues including Clarence’s, Five Bar, and Cantina 663 calling last drinks for the final time in recent months.

Seagrass WA state operations manager Laurence Thorpe, however, said he viewed Perth as an untapped opportunity for growth, particularly in the centre of the city where commercial property market conditions had given the group options for expansion.

“Commercial rents in the last five years have gone down, so we can get long-term deals and tap into that; that certainly adds to the ability to have a successful bottom line,” Mr Thorpe told Business News.

“It was a good opportunity for us; the timing was right.

“When the boom went bust there were some great commercial offerings on the table, so we knew that we could come in here aggressively and start growing.

“If you get the rental right, everything else seems to fall into place.”

Mr Thorpe said Hunter & Barrel at Raine Square would soon be joined in the Seagrass portfolio by a raft of new venues, with the group looking to introduce its Italian Street Kitchen to Perth via two venues in coming months, while he expected to open five new Ribs & Burgers locations within the next three years.

Mr Thorpe said the Perth expansion was also key to the group’s ambitions of rolling out a network of restaurants outside Australia, with South-East Asia a likely landing spot.

“I think the scene in the next five years is going to be growing, honestly,” he said.

“There are a lot of national operators that are going to find opportunities here.

“If you can get the right long-term deals that really suit the bottom line and you’ve got a good brand, you’ll do well.

“People like to eat, and what they like to do is get value for money. If you can provide that, you’re in the right space.”

And unlike many operators bemoaning the introduction of Uber Eats and other on-demand food delivery services as an impediment to growth, Mr Thorpe said Seagrass would seek to leverage those platforms to further entrench its brands in Perth’s hospitality market.

“The addition of Uber Eats and those sorts of things is driving turnover in a different way, and if we pick the right locations then there are opportunities there,” Mr Thorpe said.

“It hurts your bottom line to a certain degree if you can’t get the right deal, but what it does do is it gives you a platform to be able to spruik your brand, and that’s something you don’t often get on social media.

“People are just tapping on their phone and if you happen to have a good brand that sits on the top of the tree and they are seeing it consistently, that means the brand gets out there and people understand what’s going on.”



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