In Changing Times by Clyde Mooney

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Peter Thomson has successfully revived local stalwart the Brix Hotel in Stawell in time for the running of the town’s famous race, overcoming hurdles left by the exiting tenant.

Mid-2017 the Brix Hotel saw the entry of new leaseholders, following an extensive makeover by the owners including all new refrigeration and glycol system, air-con, security system, modern kitchen, finishes and more.

The pub is central to the Victorian locality of Stawell, around three hours’ drive north-west of Melbourne, boasting over 6,000 locals. Its name is an abbreviation of the original Brickworks Arms moniker, which was a nod to the still-active local brick factory.

Taking on a solid reputation as a friendly community pub with a 120-seat bistro, the new tenants (names withheld due to ongoing legal disputes) enjoyed modest success before a sudden departure in early March. Exiting, the leaseholders took with them much of the pub’s infrastructure, claiming their rights through the tenancy agreement.

“They took everything – including the phone book,” Thomson told PubTIC. “Everything else was virtually destroyed. They cut through the lines on the air-conditioners and compressors before they took them. Cut the power the same way, with a pair of pliers, left them hanging. First day I had an electrician here all day just making it safe.”

Thomson assumed control of the operation again on 5 March, the day after the tenants left, and spent the next four-odd weeks and $130,000 replacing what was gone or damaged and getting the Hotel operational again.

The former tenants reportedly told the Stawell Times they were entitled to take everything they removed, as they owned it, and state their “solicitor has it all in writing”. The dispute continues.

“We’re up and trading and most of our old customers are back. They’re all glad to see us back, happy for us to be back so they can get some decent food.

“When we left we had a table down the back called Table 21, for our regulars that were here every day for lunch. First day, we had one, come Friday we had ten.”

Stawell is best known for its annual race, the Stawell Gift, Australia’s oldest and richest short distance running race, which sees handicapped competitors run 120 metres up a slight gradient.

Thomson was determined to and succeeded in reopening the doors of the Brix in time for the 2018 instalment of the Gift, run every year over the Easter weekend.

Having notched up less than two weeks’ renewed trading, the owner-operator reports a Tuesday night party for fifty, and agreeing to proceed with a wedding reception already booked for September, of which he knew nothing until the anxious couple came through the reopened doors.

Thomson has been in the game for over 15 years, having previously owned the Victoria Hotel at Avoca and Royal Mail at Wycheproof. He plans to remain running the pub himself for some time, particularly after being denied by a local wag taking bets the Brix would never pour beers again.

“It’s only been a week and a half, but it’s already started to grow from when we opened.

“There’s quite a few in town that reckoned it was never going to reopen. That was never going to happen. Someone was taking book on it; I wanted ten grand on it, but they wouldn’t take me.”