Athena Hospitality Group, headed by hospitality veteran Michael Dixon, has been revealed as the new operator of one of Brisbane’s oldest operating hotels, The Victory.
Last month, it was announced that the Vic (as the hotel is locally known) was to close, after ALH Group decided against renewing its lease with the owning Precision Group. The final day of trading under ALH was Sunday, 19 February.
Yet, on 15 February, Precision announced that the venue had found a new, then unnamed, operator. It has now been revealed that Athena Hospitality Group will be managing the historic venue.
Mark Dunbar, Athena CEO, spoke to Australian Hotelier about how the group came to acquire the lease.
“My boss said: ‘Look, we’ve put in for the Vic, a couple of months ago, and we’re about 150-to-1.’ Well, sometimes a long shot wins.”
For Dunbar, the bid was also about keeping an historic venue operational.
“I think [these hotels] are a part of history and a part of our culture. The old pubs are a dying art – they’re just knocking them down and putting high-rises up. It’s the oldest sort of pub in the area… We haven’t got any plans to knock the Vic down, we’re just trying to keep a bit of history there and see how it turns out.
“It was a thing to try and save the Vic – it’s a fairly iconic hotel, and we consider ourselves pretty good operators with another four hotels in the group,” Dunbar continues.
The existing Athena portfolio includes: the Black Nugget Hotel in Moranbah, the Court House Hotel in Murwillumbah, and the Central Tavern in Burpengary.
Athena was formed in late 2019, as Michael Dixon’s re-entrance to the pub trade a couple of years after a controlling stake in Dixon Hospitality Group (a precursor to Australian Venue Co) was purchased by private equity firm, KKR.
With the acquisition of The Vic, the immediate focus has been on reopening, with later plans to refurbish the venue.
“It’s a fairly big acquisition,” Dunbar says.
“We got the keys at about 11 o’clock last Friday week [3 March], and we opened up at 10:30 on Wednesday morning. So two and half days to get it up and running – it was a virtually empty shell.
“We’re looking at spending a bit of money there to start off with, there hasn’t be a lot of money spent in the last few year. We’ll tart it up a bit for four to eight months, and then we’ll undergo a fairly extensive renovation.”
And in operational terms, the approach is based around straightforward hospitality principles.
“We put F&B in front of everything else,” Dunbar says.
“So more F&B and entertainment – it’s an entertainment pub. There’s a lot of entertainment [planned] – karaoke, live bands – I think they’re sort of missing from pubs in general, Australia-wide.”
Since Athena took over, the early indications have been positive, with both customers and staff returning to the venue.
“We’re pleased with the numbers – there’s no food operation yet, but hopefully we’ll be back in full swing.
“It’s a pleasure to be there and to save a few jobs. There’s The Vic, and then there’s everybody else as far as the staff are concerned. A lot of the staff – we got them back, they went and got jobs elsewhere, but as soon as we opened back up, they flocked back here.”
The reopening of the pub not only restores a Brisbane institution, but also a rite of passage for Brisbanites, as Athena’s CEO explained.
“The biggest thing that we got out of it when it closed was that a lot of people in their 50s and 60s, they wanted their kids to have their first beer there.
“Now they can do it.”