The highly acquisitive Australian Venue Co is divesting the Oxford Tavern and The Norfolk in Sydney – but has picked up a Melbourne restaurant and bar in the meantime.

Australian Venue Co has had an extremely acquisitive couple of years, both in its first iteration as Dixon Hospitality, and in the last six months since the rebrand and funding boost from private equity firm KKR. But in a move that goes against normal activity for the group, it is currently looking to divest two of its inner-Sydney pubs, Oxford Tavern and The Norfolk.

Speaking to Australian Hotelier, CEO of Australian Venue Co, Paul Waterson, suggested that the two venues were better suited to smaller operators who were more in touch with the communities that the venues operate in, hence the divestment.

“They’re the sort of venues that I think are really best managed by an owner-operator. They’re quite bespoke and unique in their offerings and need that continual refresher of the brand and offering. So they’re the sort of venues that really need someone who lives and operates within those local communities. We think they’re best served by being owned by that type of person.”

The two pubs, along with Forresters in Surry Hills, were originally operated by Drink ‘N Dine, with Jaime Wirth at the helm. Dixon Hospitality bought the three venues from Wirth in early 2016. Australian Venue Co will continue to operate Forresters.

“We see a lot of potential in Forresters within the precinct in which it’s located, and within the building itself. So we think in the medium term we’ll look to redevelop Forresters and invest in that location, given how well we think Surry Hills will do once the Light Rail is finally finished,” stated Waterson.

Buying and selling

The national group has divested two other pubs of late – the Bush Inn in Melbourne and Soden’s in Albury, New South Wales. The venues had been purchased as part of multi-venue acquisitions and have since been identified as not fitting within Australian Venue Co’s portfolio.

“I think that’s typical of what you’ll find when you’re buying large groups, there is typically one or two that don’t fit the profile of venues that we want to own and operate long-term,” explained Waterson.

The two Sydney pubs are the only further divestments the group has planned in the medium term.

Meanwhile, the group has returned to its acquisitive ways with the purchase of The Smith, a bar and restaurant in Prahran, Melbourne.

Previously owned and operated by Michael Lambie and Scott Borg, the venue had a multi-million dollar renovation in 2017 and is popular with local residents. Waterson is thrilled to add the bar and restaurant to the group’s Melbourne portfolio.

“The Smith is exactly the type of property and business we strive to acquire. It has a prominent position, a bit of history and also the opportunity to evolve with time.”

Vanessa Cavasinni

Vanessa Cavasinni is the managing editor of Australian Hotelier and Club Management, trade publications for the pub and club sectors respectively. Vanessa has been at the helm of Australian Hotelier since...

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