21/07/2011 - 00:00

The Eagle has landed

21/07/2011 - 00:00

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Eagle Bay Brewing Co is a new family-run restaurant, winery and brewery business that reflects the ongoing changes in the Dunsborough region. Amy French reports.

The Eagle has landed
LEARNING CURVE: Nick (right), Astrid and Adrian d'Espeissis were somewhat surprised by the seasonal nature of the tourism business.

EAGLE Bay Brewing Co celebrated its first six months of trade last month, and co-owners Nick, Astrid and Adrian d’Espeissis acknowledge it has been a challenging initiation into the hospitality industry.

From planning setbacks and disputes with local government to liquor licensing, the seasonality of the tourism sector and securing staff, the young entrepreneurs have ridden a steep learning curve.

The business is a branch of the family’s farming operation, with the d’Espeissis siblings’ grandfather buying the farm in the 1950s, when wool prices were strong and farming was profitable.

The trio’s father, John, has been farming beef, wool, lamb and grapes since the 1970s, despite the viability of farming as a business declining over those years. To keep their farm, however, the family recognised the need to diversify.

Fortunately for the d’Espeissis’s, their patch is located in a picturesque valley with ocean views, only five minutes from the tourist hub of Dunsborough.

The siblings decided to create a modern hospitality venue with a casual feel where families could relax and spend time.

The venue includes its own 1,000-litre microbrewery, run by Nick, who has been brewing for more than 10 years at 4 Pines in Sydney, Dux de Lux in New Zealand and Gage Roads in Fremantle.

The property also has vineyards, planted 20 years ago by John d’Espeissis. The family sold fruit to nearby wineries for the first 15 years until it became unprofitable to do so. Now, Eagle Bay Vineyard wines are made by some of the area’s top wineries and available exclusively through their own venue.

Rupert Brown, then a chef at Vasse Felix, approached the Eagle Bay Brewing Co at the outset and has been part of the team from almost day one, preparing meals for up to 400 people a day for the past six months.

The nature of the tourism season down south has been one of the most challenging aspects of the business. The restaurant was booked out every day during summer, with walk-ins having to be turned away.

And while weekends remain busy in winter, weekdays are quiet. High award rates for casual staff add to the cost.

The d’Espeissis’s have decided to open for lunch seven days a week for the first year, with reduced hours, and then look at the data to see if there is a pattern that might enable them to close on certain days during winter.

“It always used to annoy me when restaurants would close certain days during the week, however now I can see why businesses close during the week; you can lose money if you open with chefs in the kitchen and wait staff on the floor for 20 people,” Adrian told Gusto.

Nick seems to be doing a good job in the brewing department, with the beers well received by the public and the craft brewing industry. Eagle Bay Brewing beers won eight awards at the Melbourne International Beer Awards and the recent WA Beer Week awards.

The beers are made in accordance with the German Purity Law, which uses only water, malted barley, hops and yeast to create the five regular brews –Kolsch, Vienna Lager, Pale Ale, Extra Special Bitter and English Mild (mid-strength).

They also have a single batch brew, which changes regularly, allowing Nick to experiment with a beer to follow the seasons.

“Our main goal was to open somewhere with really interesting wholesome food at affordable prices and reasonably priced wines and really good beer. The most expensive thing on the menu is the steak at $35, but the meals range all the way back to $10 for a pizza,” Adrian says.

“We’re getting a lot of repeat business, so people are enjoying it and feel like they are getting good value for money. We also cater for children with a playground, and that appeals to a different demographic that was not previously well catered for in our area.”

Adrian says the brewery was a lot bigger than they first imagined but needed to expand to be viable.

“When we first started the whole building project we were thinking of something about the size of the original Wills Domain, something we could easily run ourselves, where we would throw together some taste plates and not need any staff,” he says.

“Then we started thinking about how many people we could seat inside in winter, because there is no point opening for two tables.

“So the inside got bigger; then the kitchen had to get bigger and the outside got bigger, and now we employ over 20 staff.”

The d’Espeissis siblings have learned a few lessons in the process of getting the business going.

“We left some key items out of our original budget, such as the till system and bottling line, which means we will need to go back to the bank in the near future for another loan. Whoever said ‘you need to spend money to make money’ was right,” Adrian says.

With things calming down over winter the d’Espeissis’s are now trying to spend more time in the office to assess how the business is doing.

“We’re here for the long term. If you are running a small business, you need to take a long-term view. The whole family has heavily invested in Eagle Bay Brewing Co, and we all want to see it succeed, we also have a lot of staff that share our vision and passion for good food, wine and beer,” Adrian says.

“Attitude is so important in this business. We have a lot of plans we haven’t had a chance to implement yet; we are aiming for the business to continually evolve and grow. One day we would like to make enough money to pay back some of our loans. We are working towards that.”

 

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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