Good food, good people, good times

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How two NAB executives bought Irish Times, a worn-down pub on Collins Street, and transformed it into a flourishing business

“For a few years there was minimal, to no investment made into the business, while the sale of business was being contemplated by the then owners. It was up to us to improve the brand perception, service and quality of produce – pretty much everything from A to Z.”  Dharmesh

It may have surprised some when Dharmesh and Nitin chose to quit their high-flying roles at the NAB to take over an Irish pub in Melbourne’s CBD. But for them, the move was years in the making.

“I always had an eye on this pub,” Nitin told the Indian Sun. His interest traces back nine years, when he managed bars around Melbourne. When he came to know the owner was looking to exit years later, the decision to return to hospitality was as good as made. “Food has always been my passion,” he said.

“This is also a very well-known venue,” Dharmesh said, explaining their reasoning behind taking on the venture. “It’s considered one of Melbourne’s… institutions. The niche it commands as well as its central location was a key driver.”

Fast forward three years, and Dharmesh and Nitin have turned what had become a tired pub on Collins Street into a thriving business. The Irish Times is now a fine balance of tradition and modern tastes. Punters are tempted in with regular live music, a trendy gastro-pub menu, and Irish theme that can’t be missed – literally, thanks to the two-storey high flag fluttering orange and green outside.

Melbourne’s bar and club scene is notoriously cut throat. Most bars fail in their first 12 months. How did two Indian-origin entrepreneurs beat these odds?

When Dharmesh and Nitin took over the pub, they recognised it was in need of an overhaul. “For a few years there was minimal, to no investment made into the business, while the sale of business was being contemplated by the then owners,” Dharmesh said. “It was up to us to improve the brand perception, service and quality of produce – pretty much everything from A to Z.”

The pair overhauled the décor to make it more inviting, invested in backend processes, new kitchen equipment, and hired a fresh team.

“The second phase was promoting it and developing it by using social media platforms like Facebook, direct mails, word-of-mouth, and promoting it among corporates, using our corporate connections,” said Dharmesh.

“People could see there was life coming back into the pub,” added Nitin.

Many people dream of pub ownership, thinking it would be a fun lifestyle. But this is one of the most common reasons pubs fail. New owners are drawn to the fun, and have little knowledge of the business processes that ensure the drinks keep flowing.

With12 years of experience in operations and management, Dharmesh knows the importance of getting these processes right. “Resource allocation and optimisation is key to generating profit,” he explains. Add to that, health and safety, inventory control, supplier relations, and “above all this business does require cash flow management”.

“We operate seven days a week, so if you do let it go, the outgoing can be a lot,” added Dharmesh. “Cash flow and people management are the two key things.”

Equally important for any business in today’s digital age is having an effective plan to tackle social media. “We rely heavily on social media for business promotion and marketing,” explained Nitin. The pair outsources some of the social work to partners; the rest is taken care of by staff in-house.

Another crucial element for pubs today, is food. The days of chewy steak and soggy chips are long gone. Today’s punters demand nothing less than posh ‘pub grub’, fit for Instagram – and Dharmesh and Nitin know it. “We revitalised the menu – retaining the authentic Irish items, but adding items which are going to be sought after by our patrons,” said Dharmesh.

“From marinating our own chicken breasts to crumbing… we make everything in-house, that’s what makes us different and sets us apart from other pubs in Melbourne,” added Nitin.

They’ve come a long way in just three years. What can we expect to see from the Irish Times duo in years to come?

“This industry is very dynamic,” said Dharmesh. “We’re looking at incremental value addition across all segments. And then we do have future plans to branch out into outdoor catering.” Looking further into the future, expanding the brand regionally, interstate and even internationally are all on the table. As Dharmesh pointed out, “there’s a market for Irish pubs”.

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