Just like Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody’s song, “From Little Things Big Things Grow", what started out as a boutique beer operation in the Sunshine Coast hinterland town of Eumundi, soon became a property portfolio including hotel assets across Queensland for this home-grown company.
Eumundi Group Limited may have kept the namesake of its town of origin, but the publicly-listed company has moved on from its craft beer operation, to an impressive multi-million dollar collection of properties in high growth areas of Queensland. The group owns and operates the Ashmore Tavern and the Aspley Central Tavern, in addition to its investment property assets which include The Plough Inn at Brisbane’s Southbank.
When the group floated on the ASX in 1984 it was originally known as Eumundi Brewing Group, owning the Imperial Hotel and importantly the brewery which had been built beside it at Eumundi. Eumundi Lager was one of its best known products. The group no longer has a physical link to the town having sold the brewery and the Imperial Hotel over 15 years ago.
Although craft beer has seen a resurgence in recent years, Eumundi Group’s Chief Executive Officer, Suzanne Jacobi-Lee, said there were no regrets in selling the boutique brewery business.
“It was a tough market when we sold the brewery. Competition was fierce with the major brewers buying up the smaller operators or trying to run them out of business through price wars. I think it was the right decision at the right time to exit that space. We then sold the brewing rights for Eumundi Lager to Lion and while it hasn’t been brewed since around 2001 we still have the occasional customer calling us to find out where they could buy ‘our beer’. It’s good to hear it’s back on tap, but I couldn’t say if it was the same recipe”.
The group acquired the Ashmore Tavern on the Gold Coast in 1996 and bought the shopping centre in which the Aspley Central Tavern is located in 2004. Most recently the group acquired the leasehold of The Plough Inn at Southbank in 2017.
Suzanne said “2020 is a year we won’t forget in a hurry. We had only just completed a major redevelopment of the Aspley Central shopping centre and with it a significant expansion and upgrade to the Aspley Central Tavern gaming room late last year. We doubled the area of our gaming room, and acquired an additional seven authorities bringing the total number of machines to 42. We’d also completed an upgrade of the sports bar and lounge bar / bistro at the Ashmore Tavern and were starting to see some really good results. Then the outback droughts turned into bushfires across Australia, followed by floods and to top it off, the massive disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic brought on premise trading to a halt overnight".
“It was devastating to know that most of our staff were going to be without employment following the announcement on March 22, as of the next day, and I think like most other business owners who were affected, we called staff meetings to have those discussions face to face. And it was very, very hard and obviously a lot of people were very emotional as everyone was wondering what the future was going to bring. Not only were they being inundated with images of everything that was happening overseas, but knowing that they were going to be without an income for an undetermined period of time was quite difficult. Knowing that the same was happening in every hotel across Australia didn’t make it any easier.
“We used the time to ensure our businesses would come out the other end of the tunnel in a better condition than when we went in. We brought forward the planned Ashmore Tavern capital works including construction of the enclosed bistro deck and new sports bar deck and progressed documentation of a significant gaming lounge bistro expansion. These works will help us survive in the uncertain era of social distancing – for as long as that may continue. The two deck areas are game changers for the venue. They are designed by BSPN and are being built by the Ashley Cooper Constructions team for a cost of around $700,000. We are aiming to have these improvements completed in time for the Ashmore Tavern’s 35 year birthday in mid-August. Importantly these works will provide us with the ability to relocate our gaming fleet with additional space between machines until we build our new gaming lounge later this year," Suzanne added.
“The JobKeeper programme gave us the opportunity to bring eligible employees back into the business, and our staff helped out across our venues with cleaning, archiving, and in any way they could. The retail operations were deemed essential services and fortunately continued to trade – anything less would be un-Australian! With our Ashmore chefs available to us, we decided to offer takeaway food through our Ashmore drive through and enjoyed some success. While the programme definitely had flaws, and meant we were compelled to prioritise rostering of ‘eligible’ employees at the expense of others, I’d hate to think where our staff and business would be without that initiative.
"We partially reopened the Aspley Central Tavern bar, bistro and gaming at Stage 2 and the Ashmore Tavern reopened on June 15 – once we were allowed 20 people per ‘pod’ capped at one person per 4m2 complying with the industry COVIDsafe plan. We’ve even become quite good at it, and you can see the appreciation particularly from older customers. While some of the COVID measures appear to defy common sense altogether - if that’s what we need to do to have customers back in the venue, we’re doing it with a smile.
“The community is highly COVID aware. It is essential that we do everything we can to keep our staff and patrons safe, and equally important that our patrons can see we are doing so. We want people to feel safe and comfortable in our venues. “This week we’ve resumed full trade at both venues – apart from the sorely missed gaming operations - and we’re waiting, as patiently as possible in these circumstances, for the Queensland Government to announce Stage 3. We have fabulous teams at both Taverns and we’re ready to get back to business – yesterday. “The QHA team have been invaluable throughout the COVID nightmare, providing advice around staffing issues, keeping us informed of all the changes, and lobbying to get some common sense into the government edicts. Without that support it would have been like going over the Niagara wearing floaties!” said Suzanne. From July 10, Stage 3 of restrictions being eased will come into effect and businesses will be one small step closer to normal. With school holidays underway, now is the time to check out what Queensland hotels have to offer, particularly as many new renovations have taken place across the state during the lockdowns.