Stephen Hunt is channelling the luck of the Irish, taking on his sixth pub with Port Macquarie’s Finnians Tavern.
Eight months after a vacation that saw him snap up the Ocean View Hotel in Urunga, near Coffs Harbour, the Hunt Hospitality group has taken the keys to another coastal asset, around 250km north and mid-way to home base in Newcastle.
The Hunt family has fond memories of Irish pubs, Stephen and his father opening the Irish-themed Thurless Castle in the 90s, where he met his Irish wife, who had worked in pubs back home.
Finnians is the only Irish pub in Port Macquarie, and Hunt sees a lot of potential in the well-established operation, signing on for a 30-year lease.
“It’s almost as good as buying the freehold,” he says. “There’s always jitters when you’re buying a business, you kind of think ‘did I make the right decision, pay the right price’, but I’m really excited about it. It’s a really neat operation, one bar serves the whole pub. Good mix of trade, not heavily reliant on gaming, good food, good bar.”
The deal came about through the Group’s accountant, who used to do the books for the owner of Finnians, making for realistic, no-nonsense expectations.
Hunt considers himself a long-term investor, having only ever sold two pubs, both under ideal circumstances, and says this deal has been about seven months in the making and buying is not something he rushes into or takes lightly.
“You’ve got to find a pub, make sure we’ve got the right personnel, that it fits the mould, has all the right systems and procedures and we like the area, before we go ahead.
“We have great systems where we can manage things and see how things are tracking really quickly, and we’ve got really good personnel. We’re very lucky, actually.”
The ‘luck’ has seen at least eight staff members stay for 16 years or more. The new licensee in Urunga has been with the family for over 20 years.
Entering new territory, the decision was made to trial a new and ambitious licensee Hunt has had working as assistant manager at the Rutherford for a while, who went to school in the region.
“The opportunity came up in Port and I mentioned it to him and he said yes, so he’s up there and into it, which is great. He’s a really nice guy, real quiet, very non-offensive, which is want you want in a new area.”
The pub does a roaring bar trade and the Group anticipates some cost benefits of bringing scale, but elsewhere there is growth to be had in the gaming operation, which boasts a good smoking solution but needed new machines, now installed.
And to capitalise on the bustling Dan Murphy’s next door that effectively robs Finnians of any retail liquor opportunity, Hunt has ordered a new VIP Room banner to adorn the roof facing the Dan’s carpark, and will soon add a dedicated entrance to the VIP lounge there as well.
Port is a coastal precinct of 45,000 residents seeing Government spending on infrastructure, such as the Port airport, and lays a realistic claim to being the second-fastest growing region in NSW.
Overcoming logistical challenges, the expanded footprint beyond the Group’s four Newcastle region Hotels sees Hunt doing a lot more driving, which he concedes is not such a bad thing.
“Even though I like the attraction with the locals, and staff and teams, it just gives you a bit of a break from that one-on-one.”