By Vanessa Cavasinni, editor Australian Hotelier
What started out as a family holiday became a whirlwind pub purchase for Stephen Hunt of SJH Hospitality.
Hunt was holidaying with his family in the Coffs Harbour region when a last minute opportunity amounted to him purchasing and taking over operations of the Ocean View Hotel in Urunga in a matter of days.
John Gleeson, owner of two pubs in the Coffs Harbour region, was looking to sell the leasehold of the Ocean View Hotel. He had previously consulted with Hunt at the beginning of the year looking for a new tenant.
“I went in and absolutely feel in love with the place. It’s a sleepy fishing village and all of the locals were really nice. It’s also the only pub in the town so it’s got a good captive market.”
Hunt expressed his interest in taking over the lease, but Gleeson – whose family had built the hotel in the 1920s – thought the hotel was better suited for a husband-and-wife style operation. However after finding new tenants, the deal went awry, and Gleeson was left without a new operator only days before they were supposed to take over.
“John rang me on the Thursday asking if I’d be interested in taking on the lease. When I asked when he wanted me to go in, he said Monday. I was on the road with the kids and I thought ‘Well, there’s nothing like a deadline.’”
Luckily, Hunt – who is based in Newcastle – was in the area for a holiday with his family, and was able to get to work on the hotel immediately. When he walked into the Ocean View Hotel on Friday, it had no TAB, EFTPOS or ATM, but by 11am on the Monday they were pouring beers.
While SJH Hospitality was not looking for another venue, Hunt says that the group is always open to opportunity, and that it could not pass up the chance at operating such a great pub.
“It’s just a really nice environment and that particular pub – the previous operator was exceptional, and so he had a really good team and good structures in place. It’s a very profitable pub. All of the hard work was done, really.”
Since the last-minute scramble, Chris Gladwell, a senior member of the SJH Hospitality team, has moved up to Urunga with his family to take over operations of the Ocean View Hotel. Plans are in the works for a cosmetic uplift of the pub, with an upgrade to the gaming room, updated menus and new staff uniforms, plus a new marketing campaign.