In a wide-ranging discussion about the group’s operations in Australian Hotelier’s 2024 Annual Industry Leaders Forum, Odd Culture Group CEO James Thorpe made the admission that the group is set to expand significantly this year.

Following a landmark year in 2023, Odd Culture Group is positive about its position in 2024, as group CEO James Thorpe told Australian Hotelier.

“We’ve had a bunch of really big wins and some really exciting milestones,” he said.

“It’s been a really positive year for us. Obviously, not the year that the industry was hoping for, particularly in 2022. There was such a variety of opinions about what the trading conditions would be like,” Thorpe said.

Highlights of the year for Odd Culture Group included winning Hotel Operator of the Year at the Australian Liquor Industry Awards, as well as expanding from the group’s Sydney roots into the Melbourne market with Odd Culture Fitzroy.

“Taking our fairly new brand in Sydney to a new stage has been a really positive and also eye-opening experience. It’s way more difficult than you would think and the markets are way more separate than may be expected. It’s not a bad thing at all, to have a whole new market and a whole new set of people in restaurants and bars,” Thorpe said.

Thorpe attributes the group’s success to the diverse venues that it offers, which provide a point of difference from other operators.

“We’ve always had a philosophy that no matter the trading conditions, the market is always there and if you work hard enough, and you create interesting enough experiences for people, they will come. When things get tough, we just kick it up a notch and work a little harder and we’ve always found success that way,” Thorpe said.

The Old Fitzroy in Woolloomooloo.

Legislative relief

Odd Culture Group and the Sydney pub scene more generally had several wins with licensing and legislation over 2023. In the inner west Sydney suburb of Newtown, Odd Culture received a hybrid on- and off-premise license for wine bar and bottle shop Spön and a 4am license at basement bar and live music venue Pleasure Club.

“One of our group’s great strengths is town planning and liquor licensing. It’s one of my great passions,” Thorpe said.

Thorpe attributes the recent changes in legislation to a shift in perspective after the pandemic.

“COVID gave us a bit of a reset on all the legislation. It made the public and thus the government realise how much everyone actually needs the hospitality industry in Sydney, and more broadly, and how stupid some of this red tape was,” he said.

Thorpe is excited about the potential this new environment provides for new operators entering the space.

“The time is right for any diverse late night hospitality experience.

“It’s really exciting because less red tape in this area just means that we’re going to see more creative, young, small operators pop up,” he said.

Neighbourhood support

Another boon for the late-night entertainment scene has been the changes made to the noise complaint process.

“The real benefit here has been just the consolidation of the noise complaints process, where previously one vexatious complainant could lodge a claim with seven different government departments and that claim can be taken seriously and investigated by all of them,” Thorpe said.

Now, noise complaints must be submitted through council, and the complainant must meet with the council face-to-face.

“It’s been really positive for us. We have the best relationship with our neighbours that we’ve ever had. Basically, when there is an issue, they will come to us. It hasn’t happened very much, to be honest. When you deal with noise complaints, solving them is normally quite simple, but it’s impossible to do if you don’t know who the person is. We found a random windowpane that was a little bit cracked and was leaking sound through and we wouldn’t have found that if the neighbour hadn’t let us know. We got that panel of glass fixed with double-glazed glass, and we’ve never heard from that neighbour again,” Thorpe said.

The Duke of Enmore is well-known for its live music program.

While the current economic climate will pose a challenge throughout 2024, Thorpe is positive about the position of pubs.

“Trading out of this cost-of-living environment is our biggest challenge as an industry.

“Pubs are trading incredibly well. I couldn’t fault it. We couldn’t fit an extra person in there, to be honest. Pubs have that reputation. During the Great Depression, all the pubs were full. They’re an all-weather local meeting place of whoever, in the community. It’s just where people go, which is great,” he said.

New approaches

There are big plans in store for Odd Culture Group in 2024, with Thorpe expecting the group to make announcements in February.

“We have some really exciting projects and our group will double in size by the end of 2024,” he said.

Though Thorpe is tight-lipped about exactly what the group has planned, he told Australian Hotelier that any new projects will be unique.

“In terms of what we’re interested in and what we’re doing, every project we undertake, we do something completely different. Even our two pubs are very different,” he said.

Thorpe has noticed that new venues are looking to nostalgia when designing new venues.

“Right now, in the market, it’s about looking back. It’ll be a bar themed around a certain period, or it’ll be a listening bar or 90s cocktails. And that’s awesome, I love that. What we’re really interested in is stepping forward and creating something new and trying to say something and contribute something in the market,” he said.

“I would say, just expect anything.”

Check out the 2024 Annual Industry Leaders Forum below.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *