5 June 2024

Pialligo Estate to be reborn under new hospitality and events venture

| Ian Bushnell
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A new partnership with long pockets will inject new life into the Pialligo Estate restaurant and events venue. Photo: Region.

The Pialligo Estate hospitality venue will reopen on 4 July with a new offering from restaurateur Anthony Whitehouse, backed by property tycoon and AFR rich lister Tony Denny.

After failing to sell last year, the 13-hectare property was put out to lease in April looking for visionary hospitality entrepreneurs to breathe new life into the venue which, under its previous owner, collapsed in March 2023 owing more than $10 million.

The venue will retain its recognisable name, but the partnership says it will bring a whole new experience to the Canberra restaurant and events scene.

Mr Whitehouse heads Create Catering and already has several connections with the Canberra food scene.

He has a long and distinguished history as a restaurateur extending back to the early 1990s in the United Kingdom, where his restaurant, The Hole In The Wall, was awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand.

He came to Australia with his family in 2011. He was general manager of Compass Group before opening Create Catering, a company specialising in a diverse range of venue and event catering contracts.

It won a Restaurant & Catering Association award for Best Informal Restaurant in the ACT for Westering at the Lake George Winery, ran Poppy’s Cafe at the Australian War Memorial, Ollyville at Shaw Winery Estate and the Gundaroo Inn.

Create Catering has also won Best Venue Caterer and Best Site-Contract Caterer for the Australian Museum in Sydney.

Pialligo Estate partners Tony Denny and Michael Whitehouse: “Canberrans know about their food, so if we’re not good, we won’t do well. If we are good, we’ll do really, really well.” Photo: Supplied.

It currently employs more than 250 people at venues such as David Jones and Cricket Victoria. Whitehouse also chairs Zoofari, the annual fundraiser gala at Taronga Zoo.

Mr Whitehouse said he first fell in love with Canberra when he came to the city after being awarded the AWM contract.

“Running the beloved Poppy’s Cafe alongside the event catering within the memorial, I built a connection with the region that led me to seek out other projects here,” he said.

“It’s a vibrant city that in the last decade has built a dining scene that I’m excited to have the opportunity to be a part of with our new venture at Pialligo Estate.”

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Mr Whitehouse told Region it was imperative that the new venture retained its name, but it would be a fresh offering focusing on creative but honest food priced to not burn a hole in the pocket.

Mr Whitehouse said it won’t be somewhere the tasting menu costs you $200.

“We’re very conscious that people’s purse strings are tight,” he said.

“Canberrans know about their food, so if we’re not good, we won’t do well. If we are good, we’ll do really, really well.”

He said the English chef, who had worked at a three-star Michelin restaurant in London, had some clever menu ideas that would make food fun.

“I think the restaurant will get a hat, but it’s going to get a hat in a family environment,” he said.

“It’s going to be really good food, but it’s going to be somewhere you can go have a Sunday roast for $35 and get everything.”

Mr Whitehouse said there would also be an amazing wine list.

Weddings will return to Pialligo Estate under the new venture. Photo: Region.

The new venture won’t be taking on the vineyard or the olive grove, but an onsite market gardener will supply the kitchen with fresh produce.

Events would still be prominent at the Estate, including weddings, and his financial backer is keen to activate the site, such as staging outdoor concerts to rival those staged in the Hunter Valley.

The plan is to open on Thursday, Friday and Saturday for dinner and lunch on Saturday and Sunday and then see what the demand was.

Mr Whitehouse said his partner was looking at the venture as a long-term investment and came to the project with the hefty financial backing of his personal company, Central Real Capital.

“He wants it to do well,” he said.

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Mr Whitehouse’s business partner, Tony Denny, first made his fortune in Europe selling cars before turning his attention to property.

“Partnering with Create Catering on this project was an easy decision to make,” he said.

“Anthony is a visionary in the hospitality scene and I can’t wait to see the iconic landmark of Pialligo Estate have a new lease on life,” he said.

Over the coming weeks, the partners will assemble their team for Pialligo Estate to bring together the best of the best from both the Canberra hospitality space and a few surprises from a little further afield.

Pialligo Estate was put on the market and then for lease by the mortgagee after the collapse of the hospitality, farm produce and tourism business owned by Canberra businessman John Russell.

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Is it just me, or does it seem a little too soon to “re launch” a business of the same name that failed less than 15 months ago and screwed over so many Canberrans. .
For fun do an ABN lookup for “Pialligo Estate” – no way should anyone give this new venture any deposits for events.

Sounds like the two partners have deep pockets. Maybe they can extend a gesture of goodwill and reimburse all those young couples whose wedding plans and their deposits sunk into the murky depths of the Molonglo river when Pialligo Estate went bust. Just a thought.

Why? They bought the property not the debts.

Yes, there is no legal/financial obligation or moral compunction. I guess you missed the phrase “…a gesture of goodwill…” I could add compassion and humanity. I am personally aware of the impact on some of those young couples. It’s been a while now but the misery and fallout continue.

You happy to pay off the debt of the previous resident of your house? You know, as a gesture of good will.

No, I didn’t miss your “… a gesture of goodwill…” – it’s why I asked the question. So now you add “compassion and humility”. To what end?

Your argument seems to be that as they have bought a business, of which they had no prior involvement whatsoever, they should make a charitable donation, because that’s what it is, to those affected by the previous owner’s bad business practices.

While it’s abominable what happened to clients of the (former) Pialligo Estate, I don’t see how you, because you know some of the clients, can attribute any “onus”, compassionate or otherwise, on the new owners/proprietors, simply because they are retaining the name.

Pointless analogy,

There is no onus. Goodwill is just that. Google it. And it’s “humanity” not “humility”.

Sure – googled “goodwill” = “an intangible asset (an asset that’s non-physical but offers long-term value) which arises when another company acquires a new business” … I’m not sure the previous owner’s left any goodwill equity in the business.

Now, how about you google “charity”?

Yeah, naaah, , I prefer
“noun: friendly, helpful, or cooperative feelings or attitude”

OK – let’s go with your definition … I don’t see “charity” in it. What you are suggesting is not goodwill, it’s nothing more than a charitable handout because you feel bad for your friends having been dudded by the previous owners.

Why should it stop there? What about the suppliers and other small business owners who were left unpaid? Perhaps the new owners should cover all of the debts of the previous owners?

Nevertheless, I think we just have to agree to disagree on this.

Tony Mansfield4:01 pm 04 Jun 24

Great for the market – just what we need to keep competition keen and deliver value for Canberran’s dining out. With Beltana Farm just down the road it makes it a quality ‘go to’ dining precinct. Looking forward to the opening.

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