They’re the boys behind three of Sydney’s favourite venues, Bondi Hardware, The Botanist and more recent SoCal. With the idea of opening five venues in five years the boys are well on there way to hitting their goal. We caught up with Hamish Watts and Ben Carroll of AppleJack Hospitality to find out their favourite places in Sydney to eat, drink, play and more.
1. What sparked your interest in the bar industry?
Ben: Like most peeps in the industry, I fell into it and then fell in love with it. It was infectious – always being around people and putting smiles on customers faces, knowing that you were a key part of them having an awesome night. It was and is very rewarding.
Hamish: I just loved the social aspect of it and have always loved manual work so it just all fit for me. I loved bartending and the creative side to it, I also (like most people in hospitality!) loved the party element.
2. How did you both meet?
Both: We worked together at NLG Hotel Group for 4 years. After preaching to 36 venues on how to do hospitality better and how to meet customer expectations we decided we should practice what we preach. We scraped our life savings together and rolled the dice with Bondi Hardware in November 2011
3. What was the inspiration behind Bondi Hardware, The Botanist and SoCal?
Ben: Hamish and I are always brain storming or having chats about cool ideas or what is on trend, this usually involves a bottle of wine or a few beers that’s when the creativity really flows!
The first step is looking at the site and the market you are trying to attract. Take the Botanist for example, a heritage site under the iconic harbour bridge and by the harbour, the world traveling Botanist just fit perfectly.
SoCal is off the back of a failed (no waves) surfing trip down HWY 101 in California and identifying an opportunity to create our interpretation of some of the venues we went to along the way.
Bondi Hardware was the easiest, we just paid the previous tenant $100 for the name!
4. What is your favourite cocktail to make?
Ben: Negroni, easy to make but hard to nail the perfect one
Hamish: Red wine!
5. Where do you love to EAT in Sydney?
Ben: Anywhere and everywhere and regularly
6. What has been the most challenging part of opening a venue in Sydney?
Ben: The most challenging thing I find is that it’s so different to having a full time job (working for an employer) and there’s always that paranoia that something out of your control might happen like a fire in the premises.
Hamish: Yeah I agree there’s always an element of anxiety and you always feel ‘on’ and aware that something might happen to affect the business.
The most rewarding thing is opening a new venue and seeing people enjoying it, seeing it working, coming together and also being able to employ people and provide jobs.
7. What is your favourite bar in Sydney (other than your own) for a DRINK?
Ben: I really love the no fuss old school pubs like East Sydney Hotel, I live near by so it is super easy to meet your mates for a relaxed catch up
Hamish: I’m similar to Ben with the no fuss old school pubs generally, but I had a cracker of a night just recently at Arcadia Liquors Redfern.
8. Do you have any new ventures for 2014?
Both: We always have plans on the boil – it is about getting them over the line – Fingers crossed!
9. When you are both not working where do you like to PLAY?
Ben: I love a good bar hop around the city, testing all the new kids on the block and going back to some old faithfuls.
Hamish: I’m hitting that age when “Entertaining” is the new black and dinner parties can get a little crazy….Other than that, normally hanging out at the local haunts.
10. Any advice for readers wanting to join the bar industry?
Ben: Hamish and I have found its great opening bars with someone else, a partner. We utilise each other’s strengths and weaknesses. When there are ballsy decisions to make, we can use our combined knowledge and ideas to help come up with a conclusion. Sometimes an idea that you might not be gutsy enough to do on your own, you’ll actually take up if you’ve got support from someone else doing it with you. Also, ideally get a chef involved!