29/04/2010 - 00:00

The Publican steps into the limelight

29/04/2010 - 00:00

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A new publican in East Vic Park is staking her claim on the local hospitality landscape. Russell Quinn reports.

The Publican steps into the limelight

There are some show ponies that constantly seek the limelight at the helm of their respective organisations.

Then there are the faceless drones that work tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure operations run smoothly.

Both play an equally important role in maintaining a successful business but for Jackie O’Hara, her first foray into running her very own establishment signals a bold step out of the shadows and into the spotlight.

About 18 months ago Ms O’Hara opened The Publican Bar & Café on Albany Highway among the up-and-coming East Victoria Park café strip.

It follows decades of planning, launching and managing an extensive collection of domestic and international hospitality ventures.

Despite a short-lived career as a theatre nurse and a stint partnering in a small fashion label in Perth, Ms O’Hara says she was initially attracted to the hospitality sector as a way to earn a quick buck.

Starting in the 1980s, Ms O’Hara’s first job was at Meccanos in The Melbourne Hotel on Milligan Street before she launched The Firm in the same building.

She then moved to managing the Sheraton Hotel’s Clouds before The Aberdeen Hotel’s owners approached her to launch the venue in the late 1980s, which was followed by a management position at the Blue Note in East Perth.

Before long she attracted attention overseas, landing in Singapore for two years in the early 1990s to begin an international career consulting to the Hilton and Sheraton hotel chains, among others, and building new bars and nightclubs as she went.

Her “desire to nest after getting sick of living out of suitcases” brought her back to Perth in 2000 , albeit after some terrific experiences introducing various food and beverage concepts to exotic ports around the globe including Seoul, Bangkok and Cairo.

“I had a ball, I lived in five star hotels all over the world,” she says.

“You rock up into a new country, you’re meeting all these new people, you’re having extraordinary experiences of culture because it’s not a holiday, you’re living it.”

Prior to opening The Publican, Ms O’Hara had been the Cottesloe Hotel’s operations manager for about five years, a position stemming from her hospitality consultancy business, which she set up almost 10 years ago.

Ms O’Hara says her new business has been performing well to date, despite having to overcome some unforeseen pitfalls.

She bought The Publican’s previous tenant’s business, an underperforming watering hole called Uber Bar, for about $200,000, citing the easily manageable size of the venue (capacity of 200 people across the bar and restaurant) and its location in a key growth area as the main attractions.

She also says demographic research from property, social research and planning group Urbis indicated potential patrons would be aged over 27 – as opposed to “high maintenance” 18 to 24 year olds she was only too familiar with from her time spent at Cottesloe – which meant a higher spend per head and a more food-focused crowd.

However, even someone as experienced as Ms O’Hara admits there are risks when operating a business.

That potential risk quickly became a reality after being presented with “shocking” accounting figures for the Uber Bar, after she had committed to buy the business.

“We were hoping to trade under Uber (Bar) for a while but because of the figures I wasn’t going to put effort into building up a name only to change it later so we had to close it immediately,” Ms O’Hara says.

She says she didn’t feel legal action was possible but learned an important lesson from the experience.

“Spend more time on due diligence,” Ms O’Hara told Gusto.

Another important lesson, which came from her time in Thailand, was a focus on welcoming patrons and providing top quality service.

“I think the key is to not just have yourself as the owner doing it but you’ve got to choose staff that are also of that same nature – that are happy and welcoming and enjoy their work and take pride in their work – which is probably why I mainly have females,” she says.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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