20/01/2011 - 00:00

They love cognac at XO

20/01/2011 - 00:00

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Brothers Sam and Rob Franchina have made the move from club to corporate with their new venture at Exchange Plaza. Natalie Gerritsen reports.

STARTING their first hospitality venture when they were just 21 and 23 years of age respectively, it’s clear brothers Rob and Sam Franchina like to jump into the deep end.

So it’s no surprise the former owners of West Perth venue Onyx Bar have thrown themselves into their new venture at the top end of town – bar and restaurant XO Lounge, which opened in the Exchange Plaza on November 18.

From street level on Sherwood Court, the only evidence of XO is its dining room, housed in a glass box jutting out from the side of the building and appearing deceptively small.

But as you head up the steps towards the Plaza lobby the full extent of the space becomes evident; a giant, glowing V-shaped marble bar linking the dining room with the more casual leather-lined booths of the bar area.

While Onyx Bar catered to the needs of Perth’s pretty young things, XO Lounge reflects the brothers’ more mature perspective as they both head towards 30.

After about five years at Onyx, the Franchinas decided they had a choice – complete refurbishment or a totally new venture.

“XO came along at the right time, and the right price,” Sam says.

They bought the lease from Warren Mead in late 2007, just months before the restaurateur staged a fire sale of his hospitality business before going into receivership.

The Franchinas scrapped Mr Mead’s plans for an oyster bar and brought in North Perth architect Anthony J Cassella to design a layout inspired by family history.

“We wanted to go with a cruise ship theme, as our great uncle ... brought a lot of Italian migrants to Western Australia on these cruise ships,” Sam says, gesturing to a photo on the wall.

“So that’s why we wanted to give it that vibe, to reflect us.”

While the fit-out and the location scream “flashy stockbroker”, Sam and Rob also want to balance those elements with a more casual atmosphere that features takeaway coffees and friendly staff.

“We wanted to target the up-market demographic, the movers, the shakers, the suit crowd,” Sam told Gusto.

“But we still have a casual enough element that any one can enjoy it,” Rob says.

“We have 1,500 people in the building from all walks of life, so to somebody, XO can be where they come every morning and get a takeaway coffee.

“It can be a place where they get a steak sandwich and beer on Friday, or to even come in on a Saturday night and have a three-course meal and have a top-shelf cognac.”

The brothers’ shared love of cognac, especially in its extra old or ‘XO’ variety, inspired both the name and the beverage choices when setting up the bar.

“Cognac drinkers are apparently a dying breed, but we’re young and we appreciate cognac,” Rob says.

They wanted to create an individual experience for customers, and so no expense was spared on the interior, estimating they spent about $4 million on the fit-out alone.

“Everything in here we’ve tried to design it with a point of difference,” Rob says.

“With the fit-out we haven’t copied anybody. Our wine list is freshly drafted, our cocktails aren’t just downloaded from the internet.”

“We didn’t want to just copy something that was already successful in Perth. We wanted to create something of our own.”

Integrated Construction, owned by the men’s cousin, Frank Paratore, formerly of Zorzi Builders, did the fit-out, which took two years.

Head chef Chris Emmenegger has created a Mediterranean menu the brothers say gives them more flexibility than the more traditional Italian style many may have expected.

Mr Emmenegger trained in his homeland of Switzerland before working in restaurants around the world.

Most recently, and locally, he was the executive chef of Ultimo Catering & Liquor.

Much of the team they have assembled, including bar manager Ian Loh and operations manager Vinod Kumar, have been with the project since its inception.

Licensed for 200 in the bar and 50 in the restaurant, the space can be divided and booked for private functions.

In the next couple of weeks, XO will launch a lunch services for tenants of Exchange Plaza, who will be able to order their food online and have it delivered to their office.

Sam and Rob say they have already received inquiries from nearby buildings about catering for functions.

So far, the brothers have avoided flashy opening parties and an advertising blitz, trusting in the quality of their product to generate word-of-mouth buzz.

Rob says the response so far has been positive, with Friday nights “packed out” and strong numbers for lunch and after-work drinks.

“It’s fantastic when you see someone on the phone outside saying, I’m just at the XO, come down for a drink, that’s what makes me smile. That’s payment in itself,” he says.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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