RiotACT business profile # 3 – Belgian Beer Cafe in Kingston

johnboy 3 January 2007 27

This is the outside of the Belgian Beer Cafe in Kingston.

It has new owners and the new owners have sent Jazz’s brother in law, Leon Johnston, down to manage it. This is Leon taking an order out to customers.

We went along to talk to him about the challenges of running this bar here in Canberra. The recording of the interview for those who want the whole thing is online

At 6.30pm on the second of January there was a surpising crowd of 20+ people in the bar which we thought was pretty good going for the time of year, although when we came to think about it the Belgian Beer Cafe (hereafter to be known as the BBC) isn’t the sort of place that figures in the skinflint, north-side centric, student crowd’s calculations.

During the course of the interview staffing kept coming up as a key issue. Leon made the interesting point that the bar industry is particularly unprofessional with career paths few and far between and the staff mostly transient. For the BBC, with an upmarket clientelle, a complex premium product made up of 35 varieties of Belgian beer, and a little known cuisine, staff have to receive a lot of training (which is expensive) before they’re up to speed.

For example; the glasses of the gratis beer we received had to be run through the special glass rinsers before use.

And the beer menu is both complex and detailed.

Unlike a lot of employers in the industry Leon is willing and able to pay extra to keep quality staff, but also pointed out that payroll is a major cost for a bar and controlling it is a key part of the job.

One of the written goals of new management is to make the BBC Canberra’s go-to bar (iconic even) for young professionals looking for a good night out with a good meal.

While the company which imports Belgian beers into Australia is responsible for organising Belgian bars throughout Australia, and supervises the initial fit-out, it isn’t actually a franchise. Each bar is individually owned.

Leon enthused about his barrel room which he says is one of the best he’s worked in during his eight+ years in the bar industry.

It looks a lot classier at the other end of the lines.

By the time we spoke to him Leon had just survived taking over a bar under new ownership immediately before Christmas and the New Year. I was amazed to hear they’d managed to get through that period without needing security on the door. Having a premium product at premium prices does wonders for the clientele. (While there is no formal dress code Leon would like you to feel free to dress nicely.)

Where the clientele reduces security and service of alcohol issues it does, however, make customer service standards a key concern. For the prices being charged a good time has to be delivered hassle free. To this end Leon plans to have weekly mystery visitor surveys coming through, a frequency which would give most workplaces conniptions. He listed complacency about customer service as the key risk to the business. In terms of maintaining staff standards he prefers to put it in terms of “redirecting” rather than “cracking the whip”.

Having said all that, he’s loving the Kingston crowd with their mix of education and high disposable income (without being big money and the issues that comes with it).

When asked about advice for those thinking of starting their own bar he recommended they reconsider. He also suggested that it was best to make the inevitable mistakes with someone else’s money by working in the industry before trying to open a pub of their own.

At the moment Leon’s working an 80+ hour week as he’s unwilling to let go of his baby before he’s got everything bedded down. However, like all good managers, he sees a key part of his long term role being making himself replaceable. In the future he hopes to be able to cut it down to a 50 hour week.

For all the long hours and occasional ugly moments he does, however, wax lyrical about the joy of seeing a big room full of happy people that he’s responsible for. Plus he does have a chef handy to make him lunch.

* RiotACT receives no inducements or considerations to produce business profiles (although in this case we did get two free glasses of beer and Jazz is the brother in law of Leon). If there’s a local business you’d like to know more about email business@the-riotact.com with their details and why you think they’re interesting.

The feed for podcatching the audio of this and future Business Profiles (~30mins) is http://the-riotact.com/wp-rss2.php?cat=46


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27 Responses to RiotACT business profile # 3 – Belgian Beer Cafe in Kingston
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WIC WIC 12:16 pm 13 May 09

won’t be going there again!

WIC WIC 12:15 pm 13 May 09

Went there on the weekend they were running a promotion buy 3 Hoegaarden’s and get a free glass, the advertising was all over the tables. When we went to collect the glasses they told us that the promotion only ran on Fridays and this was Saturday.

I would consider this to be misleading advertising and even though we all liked the beer, there were 10 of us, none of whom wre impressed with the attitude of management.

It’s not the glass, it’s the prncipal!

Genie Genie 11:53 pm 12 Feb 07

No offence to the BBC – used to hang out there lots, but their prices have gone up too much. And service has gone downhill.

You can get the same beers and more for alot less at Debarcles in Braddon.

Maelinar Maelinar 9:22 pm 12 Feb 07

The first pic is as close as I have ever been to the bar, and will probably be until the rumours start to circulate that their prices have reached ‘Aussie battler’ levels – otherwise regarded as ‘genuine 80’s prices’.

popgoescanberra popgoescanberra 8:37 pm 12 Feb 07

Great beer, pity about the poor value food. Nothing bad about it, just $26 prices for $17 food.

LlamaFrog LlamaFrog 4:21 pm 06 Jan 07

its an interesting mayonnaise type contraption that if left for five seconds has a nice green skin on top. so could be. The owner above who served us suggests that the sauce is made per order??

simbo simbo 1:07 pm 06 Jan 07

Actually, as an admirer of belgian fries, does the BBC do proper fries-sauce? As in the weird green stuff you get in the Netherlands and Belgium?

LlamaFrog LlamaFrog 8:52 am 06 Jan 07

not impressed people, the BBC now serves its fries in a bowl and not in the paper cone as before.

Mr Evil Mr Evil 4:24 pm 04 Jan 07

I did feel bad afterwards, but not bad enough to go back to return them!

Anyway, they weigh a fair bit so getting them back across the Tasman was interesting.

Thumper Thumper 3:48 pm 04 Jan 07

Schooner glasses mysteriously appear in my lead bag after gigs…

Strange….

johnboy johnboy 3:08 pm 04 Jan 07

yah, i have a couple of stolen glasses (seemed like a good idea at the time), but if i see some i really like I ask the bar if I can buy 4. much better and cheaper than anything in the stores.

bonfire bonfire 3:04 pm 04 Jan 07

im opposed to theft as a moral principle mr evil, but i unnerstand your compulsion.

recently in melbourne i was carousing at a pub called ‘the corkman’ on the corner of pelham and leicester sts in nth melbourne/carlton area with an actual paddy from Cork in attendance. im told corkman is not an irish superhero who shoots corks ala spiderman, i digress though.

one of the ladies took a fancy to the glass her irish coffee came in. she wanted to steal it by slipping it in her handbag.

i was aghast and voiced my opposition. i suggested she ask the staff if she could buy one.

after much persuausion and debate on ethics of theft – and i dont buy the ‘its only a glass’ argument, im more of the ‘virginity lost forever’ school in these matters – she went to the bart and asked if she could buy one. the barman went to a piel of washed ones and gaver her one – gratis.

as an aside, most people who get sacked for theft get sprung stealing petty items.

anyway, try the corkman out if youre in melbourne. parking is easy to find or its a 5 min walk from vic markets. wednesday is 12 buck porterhouse night.

cabbage cabbage 2:55 pm 04 Jan 07

BBC has the best hot chips in the world – excellent after 3 or 4 beers.

johnboy johnboy 1:52 pm 04 Jan 07

to my knowledge the deposit was under the old management.

Mr Evil Mr Evil 1:47 pm 04 Jan 07

$50 “bond” on the glass – Jesus!

Mind you, I sneaked out of the Belgian pub (past three huge Pacific Islander bouncers – the things you do when you’re pissed!) in Wellington with two of the 600-700ml Hoegaarden glasses in my coat pockets.

Thumper Thumper 1:07 pm 04 Jan 07

Been there a few times, but still prefer across the road at the Durham….

jimbocool jimbocool 11:37 am 04 Jan 07

I’m with Bonfire on Stegl – that’s an awesome beer. Actually pretty much all the beers I tasted in Austria were great.
Stegl and a schnitzel are the perfect way to end a hard day’s sightseeing. If only the Dickson tradies had Stegl on tap in its schnitzel house…

bonfire bonfire 11:27 am 04 Jan 07

went ther when it opened last year (or was it the year before ? time is blurry) and was impressed by the beer. The interior is a bit irish pub in a box fakey for me. not enough seats, and they seats are fucking uncomfortable. especially when you settle in for a long multi-hour expensive session.

i think a problem it has (and i understand through talking to a former staffer) is that it cant breach the gap between cafe and club. id be curious to see how many meals it actually serves.

one thing i did not like and i hope its changed, is that i went to order a beer and was told id need to put a $50 deposit on the glass!

i figure at this point my party had spent about 300 bucks that night.

i said id be happy to drink it in an ordinary non $50 deposit glass, but no no – it HAS TO be served in its appropriate glass.

max schubert would drink grange from a cut down plastic orange juice container, so spare me the science lesson on beer glasses.

i have been a few times when its less crowded and its quite enjoyable, yes the beer is expensive but if you knew how much i blow on wine that disappears into the cellar for the next 5 – 10 years, its not that bad. if you have come from years of vb then its a little bit of a shock.

i think a czech pub would be good. i found czech beer to be the best in europe, although i developed quite a fondness for an austrian beer called ‘stegl’ as well.

beer mmmmm

tortfeaser tortfeaser 11:26 am 04 Jan 07

I’m a big fan of the beers there, and the prices seem to keep away the big crowds. I’d definately eat there more often if they put the roast suckling pig on the menu, as in the Cammeray (Syd) BBC.

Danman Danman 10:26 am 04 Jan 07

From Dikshonary Dot Com !

Belgian Tervuren
Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia – Cite This Source

Belgian Tervurentəvûrn′ , breed of medium-sized working dog perfected in Belgium in the early 20th cent. It stands from 22 to 26 in. (55.9–66 cm) high at the shoulder and weighs from 50 to 60 lb (22.6–27.2 kg). Its long, straight, dense coat may vary in shade from fawn to russet mahogany; the hair tips are always black. Developed from a widely interbred stock of Belgian sheepherding dogs, the Tervuren emerged as one of several distinct varieties, differing from the Groenendael Belgian sheepdog in color only.

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