Luke Dryland, group operations manager for the Reilly Group in inner Sydney, has purchased the leasehold of Sutton Forest Inn, with mentor Ray Reilly taking on the freehold.

The Southern Highlands pub was sold to the pair for circa $4m by long-time owner David Dickenson, in an off-market deal. The deal was brokered by HTL Property’s Blake Edwards and Sam Handy.

Dryland and Reilly have worked together, starting at The Henson, for six years. In that time, both of their careers within pubs have followed an upward trajectory. Reilly has grown his group from The Henson to include Sydney Park Hotel and White Cockatoo Hotel. Dryland has been promoted from a venue manager role to group operations manager.

Dryland had in recent years expressed a desire to take on the ownership of his own hotel, which Reilly fully supported. They have spent the last  twelve months looking for the right pub to take on as partners.

“Owning my own pub is something I’ve always dreamt of. I started off my career working at big clubs, but when I started working with Ray it was more hands-on, and I got to learn all aspects of the business. He took me under his wing and showed me a different side of running a pub that you wouldn’t really get from the big clubs,” Dryland told Australian Hotelier.

“For myself and my family it’s a very exciting time. I’ve wanted to make something of my own and put my heart and soul into it.”

Reilly saw the move to ownership as “a natural progression” for his long-time colleague and was fully supportive of the move.

“He’s ready to go out on his own, but we’re there with him for whatever he needs. It’s the next step for him.”

A family-friendly concept

The hotel is located on a 20-acre parcel of land and features a bar, bistro, eight EGMs, 10 accommodation rooms and a large beer garden. It also has DA approval for a 70-room motel, something that Reilly told Australian Hotelier he wants to explore in the long term.

Sutton Forest Inn’s location also held great appeal for Dryland, who was looking to move his family out of Sydney. Located in the Southern Highlands, the new leasehold owner could see its potential in various markets. The hotel is located 90 minutes from both Sydney and Canberra in a highly popular wedding market. While Sutton Forest itself is a small town of 800 people, it’s only a 15-minute drive away from the higher population centres of Moss Vale and Bowral, giving the hotel a good mix of locals and visitors to appeal to.

Dryland envisions the pub as an F&B-focused venue appealing to families and visitors down for the weekend, so he plans on divesting the hotel’s gaming assets.

“I’ll be turning it into a food and beverage operation. The gaming machines will be going, I don’t picture them there. I’ve worked with Reilly Group for a while and our main focus has been F&B, family-orientated venues, so that’s my main focus.”

His plans for the venue include a refurb of the kitchen and the appointment of a head chef, as well as activating some of the land behind the venue for working gardens, livestock, a chicken coop and the like.

“It’s exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. I can’t wait!”

The sale is expected to settle in early March.

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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