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EXECUTIVE INSIGHTS | Kevin Santos, Australia
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Seagrass founder enthusiastic on suburban growth to ease pandemic pains

The company looks to continue its momentum with a string of openings for 2021.

Suburbs will likely play a role in the expansion of Bradley Michael’s Seagrass Boutique Hospitality Group in a post-pandemic industry, revealing a clarion call to take advantage of strategic locations becoming vacant.

“More and more people are going to be working from home. There's a lot of office space out there that's going to be vacant and there's a lot of casualties in the market by way of hospitality that I think, after JobKeeper, will become available. We just got to be aware and be conscious that we can capture those opportunities,” he told QSR Media in an exclusive interview.

Michael said he had been “preaching” to his team to think positive and bigger “than we’ve ever thought before.”

“If we capture these opportunities that have come in the next three to five years, our business will be way bigger, way stronger, way better, because there's going to be less hospitality in the marketplace.”

The company marked its post-pandemic resurgence by opening a Ribs & Burgers and Italian Street Kitchen in Norwest late last year. The company currently has close to 50 restaurants in its portfolio, more than half of which fall under the QSR and fast casual categories.

2020’s earlier months were obviously tougher. Panic, Michael admitted, was the initial reaction of the company to the pandemic. They then realised the need to set up a plan to look after their staff and suppliers.

“Once you know what your plan is and you start implementing the plan, it then gives everyone peace of mind and a clear vision and direction,” he said.

Initially, the company was forced to stand down its employees, arguing that they needed to preserve cash. A staff relief fund was formed, geared towards staff with work visas. Talks were also done with their housing landlords so that “we could assist them in staying in the country,” Michael explained.

“I was getting a lot of emails and a lot of calls thanking us for doing that. But at the end of the day, it was on a week-to-week basis because we didn't know what the future was going to hold,” he added.

Suppliers, meanwhile, were initially paid on a weekly basis “to lock them in and form a relationship with them,” he said. Negotiations with landlords were also made early on, asking for leniency on rentals.

“95% of them came through and...we just worked on keeping the staff that we did have. I just kept positive because there was doom and gloom on the horizon every day,” he reflected, adding that the government’s JobSeeker and JobKeeper programme gave him hope.

2021, the company revealed, will feature another Italian Street Kitchen at West Village in QLD and their first Five Guys outlet. On the full-service end, they intend to open The Meat & Wine Co restaurants in Adelaide, Canberra and Darling Harbour. (Also read: American fast casual chain Five Guys slated to enter ANZ)

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