“We do big well,” says Rockpool Dining Group CEP Thomas Pash, as the Australia-wide food empire prepares to open its 26th Bavarian restaurant this month, a 550-seater in Shellharbour.
And that’s big, even by the Oktoberfest standards of a schnitzel, beer and sausage palace.
Jobs are being filled (45 positions including full-time and casual), the fitout is racing ahead, and lederhosen being measured up at Stockland Shellharbour’s The Avenue dining area, in preparation for a November 30 opening.
A kale-and-quinoa Bondi-style operation this is not. There’s meat. There are carbs. And there’s carb sauce for the meat.
Traditional German food – Pash calls it “pork-friendly” – leads the menu, along with a large selection of beers both domestic and German. A fried “crispy pork knuckle” (Schweinshaxe) sits proudly among the top dishes, and yes, it is everything it sounds like it would be. Of course there are healthy options as well but that’s hardly the point. There’s eight different schnitzels, including a $100 1kg “schnitzelmeister” to serve four.
Large televisions will show sport. Is it a pub or a restaurant? Pash calls it “eatertainment”.
After a pretty blokey start, the Bavarians’ customer profile is now close to 60-40 male-female, Pash said. And to push its family credentials, Shellharbour will offer a “kids under 12 eat free” deal for its first 90 days.
Rockpool picked Shellharbour after analysing demographic statistics, as well as credit card-by-postcode data from its other restaurants, Pash said, and finding out that a good slice of its customers in Sydney and elsewhere were from Shellharbour.
“We’re probably going to open about 20 [Bavarians] per year,” Pash said.
“It’s resonating well in the top shopping malls in catchments where our customers are. We want to do 100 of these Bavarians in the next five years, so we map which catchments, which markets, which shopping malls do we think are the most attractive, and Shellharbour came up pretty high on that list.”
“The shopping mall does really strong numbers, the dining precinct does strong numbers, and we had a nice corner site become available, so … it really made a lot of sense for us.”
It’s part of a continued push by Rockpool, the food empire headed by Pash and including Australia’s top celebrity chef Neil Perry, into casual and family-friendly restaurants, as the high-end fine dining venues where Perry made his name continue to struggle and close.
Rockpool’s other casual venues include Fratelli Fresh and Burger Project. Perry’s role is in supervising the cuisine and menus.