Harbord Hotel was the first venue that Glenn Piper acquired, and has had an extensive renovation that centres its importance in the surfing community.

After announcing the establishment of Epochal Hotels in April, Glenn Piper chats with Australian Hotelier about the philosophy behind the group, and how that’s reflected in its venues.

Having long had experience in property investment and an affinity for the water, Glenn Piper decided to combine his areas of expertise and interest in early 2020 and acquire the Harbord Beach Hotel in Freshwater, in Sydney’s Northern Beaches region.

It had been owned by John Thorpe and Trish King for 42 years. Piper would regularly drive past the pub on his way to beach volleyball sessions, and would take note of its position within the local community.

“I always admired the prominent position that hotel took in the Freshwater Basin. It has beautiful architecture, that’s quite significant in its design,” Piper told Australian Hotelier.

“But then also, within the community, the ‘Harbord Hilton’ was always a place that was truly loved by the local community. So, many years later, I decided to sound out the owners that had been operating the hotel since the 70s and see if they would be interested in passing the heirloom over.”

After 18 months of discussion, Thorpe and King agreed to sell the pub. Even with no prior experience operating hotels, the partners were convinced that Piper would be the right custodian to carry on the pub’s legacy.

While Piper admits that there was a learning curve to pub operations, he had a strong vision from the outset for what he wanted the Harbord Hotel to be for the Freshwater community, and built a strong team of industry professionals around himself, including Michael Ternes (ex The Esplanade Hotel, St Kilda), who came on as GM of Harbord Hotel, and is now the Group General Manager of Epochal Hotels.

“I surrounded myself with the right expert minds to realise the vision I always had for that property. And so yes, it was a learning curve for me, but it wasn’t something I shied away from. I really embraced it as an opportunity to expand my experience in real estate into the hospitality sector,” explained Piper.

Since that first acquisition in 2020, Piper and his investment partners have gone on to acquire the Beach Hotel, Merewether in Newcastle; Q Station, Manly; Hook Island in the Whitsundays; and the Commodore Hotel at McMahon’s Point in North Sydney. The latest addition to the portfolio, announced last month, is the Scarborough Hotel in the Illawarra region, famed for its clifftop views of the Pacific Ocean. In addition to the announcement of the latest venue purchase, Piper took the opportunity to also announce the formal establishment of Epochal Hotels.

A significant event

After years of discussion, planning and the building of a signature collection of renowned hotels and other assets that have significant cultural impact in their coastal communities, the acquisition of the Scarborough Hotel felt like the right time to formally unveil Epochal Hotels.

“It did take us this long to settle on a brand that was aligned to what we set out to accomplish, and the impact we’re having in the hospitality space. We’ve got a collection of amazing assets, which are iconic in each of their locations. Scarborough Hotel is no different, so when that was added to the portfolio, we thought it was the ideal time. It’s a good moment to crystallise this vision and bring it to fruition,” stated Piper, who is now officially the CEO of Epochal Hotels.

The name of the group emphasises the team’s aims to take these already renowned assets, and start them on a new phase of cultural significance.

“The name of Epochal Hotels encapsulates our ethos and approach for each property within our portfolio. Epochal signifies something significant or important, marking the beginning of a new era. So, for me, that is a nod to the historical significance of each venue when they were first established – it was an epochal time – as well as our commitment to revitalising and reimagining these spaces for the modern era.”

The Epochal Hotels portfolio does have a very distinct characteristic of being comprised of assets that are near the coast, but Piper says it’s more than that.

“I’ve always been drawn to opportunities that have three components: they’re by the coast, they’re significant, and they’re iconic. And they have that heritage and history component to them. If you take a look at the assets, they’re all similar in that regard.”

Delving into history

A core component of Epochal Hotels’ operations is honouring each of its pubs’ histories and cultural significance by bringing that into focus with each renovation.

“For me, the heart of any establishment does lie with the connections to the community. I think there’s a responsibility to do the community and property justice, to call on its heritage, its history. These pubs has been serving the community for so many decades, and quite often, they’re some of the oldest buildings in those suburbs. So I always aim to make a property of that significance emblematic of the community,” explained Piper.

“It should represent the stories of the past, and it should be a celebration of the local community. Because the communities that these properties are sitting in, they do have fantastic stories, and a lot of them have contributed to wider culture, so I think that should be celebrated.”

This is an excerpt from an article published in the May issue of Australian Hotelier. Continue reading below.

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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