For 17 years, Brett’s Wharf has been a large, successful restaurant catering to a broad market of business and family clientele. Concurrently Brett’s built up a thriving catering business at their own function centre and at preferred venues around town and in offices and homes all over town. They provided the catering at some of Brisbane’s largest and most prestigious events including the two black tie Virgin Blue Charity Balls that attracted 3000 guests.
At the 16 year mark, it was profitable; employed approximately 100 staff and amassed an impressive array of awards.
So why is it closing? In March 2011 it was announced that Council were resuming the land on which the restaurant and function room is located. Being a popular function centre means events, such as weddings and large corporate events are booked and deposited months, if not years in advance. Suddenly, instead of giving brides the happiest day of their lives, owner Genny Nielson found herself with the unenviable task of telling them that they no longer had a venue for their big day. She and her team saw to it that every wedding found a new venue, deposits were returned and the plan was to close on Australia Day 2011. They cancelled or turned away a conservative $2million worth of function and catering business.
In November of 2011, just 8 weeks before they were set to close, the Council advised that they had changed their plans and were no longer proceeding with the road works on Kingsford Smith Drive. So the $2million worth of catering and function business were turned away for nothing.
The process of winding down the business also meant they had cancelled much of their marketing for Brett’s Wharf, with the result that for the following year they were not included in publications like the yellow pages, annual wedding and function publications and the like.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that this business has been served a crushing blow by an inept bureaucracy that seems incapable of understanding that businesses can’t withstand this sort of on-again-off-again blundering. Surely more planning and decision-making had to be made before the initial contact was made to Brett’s and clearly this is a stuff-up of monumental proportions.
The bungled handling by the powers-that-be aside, it is no secret out there that business is tough at the medium to high end of the market. And particularly so in the suburbs as rents creep up and diners stay home and watch Masterchef.
Still there is no doubt that this business would still be doing well if this hadn’t happened and the 75 dedicated, long term staff members that find themselves in the same boat as the thousands of laid off public service workers, would still be feeding that faithful flock of pelicans that show up to Brett’s every day for their lunch.
This is about the restaurant industry but it’s also a little bit personal for me. I know co-owner Genny Nielson well and I know how hard she has worked to resolve things. We were friends well before Genny entered the industry mand this is nowhere near the end for the restaurateur who also owns Tank Restaurant and Bar where Alastair McLeod is Executive Chef. (Alastair is also Exec chef of Bretts).
When I heard she had made the decision to close, I immediately thought about how hard this would be for both Genny and Alastair to tell their staff. Both have very big hearts and this must surely be the worst part of the decision. That, and once again, having to break the hearts of more brides who had booked to hold their reception at Bretts Wharf.
Knowing Genny and the other owners well, I was not surprised to hear that they had managed the closure on 2 September 2012 with typical integrity. All deposits for forward bookings are being refunded, staff are being paid to find those customers suitable alternate locations. Staff have been given proper notice and are being paid their correct entitlements; the owners have even contacted many other restaurants and function facilities inviting them to approach their staff with positions. Creditors are being paid. But sadly, the owners are facing no financial return whatsoever on their 17 years of accumulated goodwill and hard work.
Tank, at the legal end of town in Brisbane’s CBD, is widely regarded as one of Australia’s best. It is much smaller than Bretts and the team will continue to thrive in the CBD location especially when they can finally put this awful drama of the past few years behind them.
If I had a dollar for every time a gym instructor said to me “use it or lose it” referring to my various inert muscle groups, I’d be a rich (and much fitter) girl. But this advice also applies to our restaurant industry especially those located in high rent suburbs that do not have the trade of the inner city. Let’s not turn into Sydney where so many great places are falling over.
It’s tough out there but we all have to eat so whether you go to your local pizzeria or make it date night at a one of our starred restaurants, go to dinner folks. If you support quality outlets at whatever end of the style scale, you also support local primary industry and keep a lot of people employed. And there’s no arguments about the washing up!