In Property by Clyde Mooney

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The team behind the Open Door Pub Co are back, with ambitious plans and the freehold acquisition of Hardiman’s Hotel in Kensington.

Open Door Pub Co (ODPC) was the product of Michael Thiele and Craig Ellison, formed in 2004, furthering the pair’s UK enterprise the Walkabout Inns.

ODPC accumulated a large collection of hotel operations, historically mostly leaseholds, before selling its complete portfolio of 17 leases and head office to Dixon Hospitality in late 2015.

Hardimans Hotel, originally the Clarence Hotel, was built in the late 1870s by the Hardiman family. It was originally designed to resemble a boat, even sporting porthole windows. Descendant Timothy Hardiman owned it in the 40s, when it was rebranded its current moniker.

Image: Facebook

On New Years’ Day 1998, Rick Richards and Jane Holmes bought the Art Deco hotel, saving it from imminent redevelopment. They have lived in and operated it since.

Located just four kilometres north-west of the Melbourne CBD, Kensington is known for its ‘village feel’ and has until recent years largely escaped the relentless march of progress and gentrification.

Thiele and Ellison have been eying the area and particularly the Hardimans for quite some time, watching the growth in an area they say is “crying out” for a modern hospitality operation.

Having spent time on some property investments, attending personal matters and simply taking a break, Thiele – who nearly bought something mid-2016 – says this is the pub for the new partnership.

“We’ve been looking for suitable things to buy, and this is the first one that is really the right type of place for us,” Thiele told PubTIC.

The veteran publican notes there are only three pub operations in the locality, one of which, the Quiet Man, recently sold to developers and is destined to become apartments. The potential opportunity led him to make several offers to buy the pub since 2012.

Having now secured it, Thiele says it needs a “significant investment” but he intends to bring the pub up to the standard expected in Melbourne’s thriving hospitality scene.

The complete renovation will embrace a contemporary Art Deco feel, two new bars, a much larger kitchen including an artisan woodfire pizza oven, large ground floor garden area partially covered and heated, stage area, and an outdoor terrace and two function rooms on the first floor.

As well as the gourmet pizzas, the food offering will include specialty steaks, vegetarian dishes and vegan options to accompany pub classics. The “extensive” beverage menu will include 20 taps, pouring craft, imported and local beers, a large range of wines by the glass, cocktails, and lots of boutique spirits.

“We plan to make this hotel the hub of the community with something for everyone young and old, seven days a week, while keeping with its roots and featuring live acoustic music most of the week,” added Thiele.

“We hope to have the Hardimans open before December 2017, and look forward to welcoming the locals in for some Xmas cheer.”

The off-market sale was brokered by CBRE Hotels’ Will Connolly, who recognised the vendors’ attachment but celebrates the return of Thiele to the game.

“We as agents can sometimes get caught up in the black and white of the sale of assets for our clients, as they are usually circumstances governed simply by dollars and cents.

“However, this particular sale was a very emotional one for Rick and Jane, as much the sale of their home as it was a business and property. Hardiman’s has been their home for close to 20 years, it was clearly a very difficult thing for them to decide that now was the time go.

“In hindsight, it was only a matter of time before Michael returned. He pin-pointed to us that Hardiman’s Hotel and its location were ideal for his model, and from what we have been told so far Michael has grand plans for the venue and we’re certain Kensington and its surrounds will be thrilled with the result.”

Plans for the renovated hotel. Image: supplied