17/12/2009 - 00:00

Settling in for an Indiana summer

17/12/2009 - 00:00

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Diverse offerings and a user-friendly atmosphere are paramount for Chris Taylor. Russell Quinn reports.

Settling in for an Indiana summer

VARIETY really is the spice of life at Chris Taylor’s recently refurbished restaurant overlooking Cottesloe Beach.

Since the Fraser’s Group bought it in 2007 for more than $3 million, Indiana, formerly the Indiana Tea House, has undergone an extensive internal refit, aimed at creating a wide selection of offerings in the one beachside location.

Mr Taylor, who heads up the Fraser’s Group (as part of the Melbourne-based O’Brien’s Group), which includes Bluewater Grill in Applecross, The Old Brewery on the Swan River and, of course, Fraser’s Restaurant in Kings Park, says he wouldn’t have made the purchase if it weren’t for the venue’s long-term lease of about 37 years.

“If it was a 10-year lease you’d say no,” Mr Taylor tells Gusto.

“But there’s a fair whack left.”

Mr Taylor says he bought the iconic eatery on Marine Parade as a distressed asset, believing it had not realised its full potential under the previous owners.

However his “grandiose plans”, which initially included building separate external toilets and a function centre underneath the restaurant, among other ideas, were knocked back by the local council, forcing Mr Taylor to re-evaluate what could be achieved through “frustratingly slow” negotiations with the Town of Cottesloe.

“It’s an iconic site, an amazing location and all my restaurants I run with the O’Brien’s you need an edge,” he says.

“You’ve got to have a package, you’ve got to have a venue that’s multi-purpose, that’s really important to what we do.”

In order to create this multi-faceted package, Mr Taylor invested about $350,000 remodelling the restaurant as a modern beach bistro capable of hosting private dinners for either 25 or 60 people (depending on which room is chosen), functions for up to 200 people utilising the entire restaurant, as well as day-to-day breakfast, lunch and dinner customers.

Mr Taylor says the options available are popular with birthday parties and weddings, although the distance from the CBD means the corporate world has not been knocking on his door just yet, choosing instead to utilise Fraser’s and The Old Brewery.

“Weddings are great, I could sell a wedding here every day,” he says.

“People might come in expecting a real high-end product, you’re not going to get that, it’s a beach bistro.

“Now we’ve got a new bar where you can get wines by the glass and beers on tap.

“A new kitchen, hence the wood-fired oven for shared food, and we’ve made it more user friendly.

“This place, for me, is about stripes and white curtains and a few louvers: it’s the beach, it’s breezy, it’s about guys and girls and opening it up.”

After relaxing the dress codes and lowering the price points to broaden the main restaurant’s appeal, Mr Taylor has also seized on the passing pedestrian traffic, especially during the summer months, by opening a simple fish and chip shop (called Indi Fish & Chips) underneath the main floor.

While it’s only been open for two weeks, it’s already proving popular and will stay open until May.

“Then we’ll open a little juice bar on the beach level, called Indi Juice, which is only going to be open the three months for summer,” he says.

“So it’ll probably open next week selling juices and ice creams for the kids.”

Running such a diverse operation at Cottesloe while managing more than 250 staff across the four restaurants means Mr Taylor has needed extra help.

As he’s done at the other restaurants, Mr Taylor has brought in trusted and experienced operator, Garry Williams (who has been front-of-house at Fraser’s for almost eight years) to run Indiana on a profit-sharing agreement.

“He has an interest just like I have an interest,” Mr Taylor says.

“I wouldn’t own a milk bar unless you had that sort of setup. I think it’s seriously important.”

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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