Talking shop: Brett Pritchard – Redfern Continental

The back story and Brett's tips on starting your own local bar

There’s a lot to love about Redfern. It’s easy to see why it’s gentrifying fast. Cool art, hipster cafes and a burgeoning bar scene add to the vibrant village atmosphere and there is a community sensibility that keeps the place honest. Some call it #redfernlife

For business partners Brett Pritchard and Dave Jank, Redfern’s neighbourly aspect was a big drawcard when it came to establishing Arcadia Liquors. In 2012, they took a punt by transforming a commercial space into a small bar, cherry-picking the best elements of long-standing pubs and loading it with personality. The result is a much-loved ‘local’ where visitors feel instantly welcome, whether they live around the corner or hail from miles away.

Three years on, the duo has responded to locals’ increasing demand for ‘a good feed’ by opening Redfern Continental. This day-to-night diner with a hidden back-bar offers a selection of more-ish European flavours complemented by distinctive cocktails and a wine-list that sees the old-world rub shoulders happily with new-world varietals. The other factor is ambiance, which Brett and Dave deliver with their unpretentious venue design and a double-dose of good, old-fashioned service.

We caught up with Brett to find out what makes sense about locating their new restaurant in the same ‘hood as Arcadia and why being truly hospitable is essential to the success of their ventures.

What drew you to Redfern initially when you wanted to open a bar?

We opened Arcadia in June 2012 and I’d have to say that community is the first word that comes to mind. I think Redfern has always had a good sense of community. We also felt the right clientele were already here. There was a young population who were ready for something like Arcadia. Beyond that, we could really see room for growth in the area. Our business plan was so conservative to begin with. We did our initial numbers on working the bar ourselves, with maybe one other bar staff working at the busiest nights. We thought we’d be able to take turns having a quick sleep upstairs when it was quiet. That never happened. From day one we had to hire staff. The demand really surprised us and it cemented the idea that the area was ready for our style of small bar to settle in.

Did you deliberately want a pared-back aesthetic that would be in keeping with the edgy side of Redfern?

The ideal thing to do is find a space, draw everything up, create a palette of materials, price it all, and work out what you can afford. We didn’t have that luxury or time.

Essentially, Dave and I worked as labourers alongside our builder. That gave us a chance to learn and assess things as we went along. For example, we tossed up whether to leave the wall rendered or to expose the brick. We took the render off in a 50cm square, looked at each other and said ‘what do you reckon?’. We chipped off a bit more and a bit more until there was no going back. As well enhancing the texture and character, the most surprising thing about exposing the brick is that it actually opens the room up as opposed to closing it in. When your eye travels up the layers of brick into the high ceilings, you get a great sense of the space.

What made you and Dave decide to open a new restaurant around the corner from Arcadia and what is the focus for Redfern Continental?

We knew there was a gap in the market for good food. When we first opened Arcadia, we started out with mixed nuts and simple toasted sandwiches, which has now grown into a range of deluxe sandwiches and antipasto plates. We could see that people were happier to linger if there was something more substantial to eat while they were catching up over a couple of drinks. We’ve really noticed that an entertaining night for people now seems to be to get a group together, head out to have something to eat, have a few drinks and end up sitting around chatting and having a great time for 4-5 hours. And it seems they’re even happier if they can do all that in the one venue.

There aren’t many options for that type of experience around us, so we felt there was definitely room to bring a food venue with a plush back bar into the mix. We knew we could create a good neighbourhood restaurant that’s there for people morning, noon and night. We want Redfern Continental to be like an extension of your kitchen and lounge-room, somewhere you always feel welcome. So far, it seems to be working.

If you could improve one thing about the hospitality industry, what would it be?

For me, I get a little frustrated when the idea of hospitality gets missed. It sounds obvious, but being hospitable is the essence of hospitality. I don’t know if it’s just through experience that I find it easy. Essentially it’s about playing to the nice side of people. When you reserve judgement, you let people show their true colours, and that way you can be as hospitable as possible. We try to treat everyone the same, no matter what. And that’s why there’s a massive cross section of people who come to Arcadia and Redfern Continental. Everyone feels welcome when they come in here.

Brett’s five top tips for running a successful local bar and restaurant:

1. The right place

Someone asked me once if it was cheap rent that attracted us to Redfern, but that wasn’t a consideration. It was always about finding the right location. You’ve got to know what you want to do and whether the market has room for your concept. Ask yourself what you’re going to add to the area and to the business mix that is already in place.

2. Purpose

It’s also important to work out why you want to open something in that particular location. What is it that you think is going to be great and unique about what you want to do?

3. Make room

There are a lot of tiny spaces around and, to me, it’s difficult to operate and cover your overheads if you can only accommodate 50-60 people. You need the numbers to make it successful.

4. Roll up your sleeves

You’ve got to be willing to work it yourselves. Being hands-on really makes a difference in this industry. People like to see you there. It helps you to compete with big, managed venues that don’t have that personal touch.

5. More than a labour of love 

You’ve really got to have the passion. You’ve got to be ready to bring another level of energy to everything you do.

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