By MICK ROBERTS
THE transformation of an old Bulli chemist shop into a bar and eatery could be just the right medicine for many of us, after a year most would like to forget.
Thomas Bailey hopes to open Bulli’s latest hospitality offering, The Fitz Café & Bar in February 2021.
Mr Bailey said the café and bar at 251 Prince’s Highway will be heavily influenced by the trendy cafes and bars of Fitzroy, Melbourne – hence the name.
“Our mantra at the Fitz is to please everyone, not just a target market,” he said.
“Whether it be a quiet morning breakfast, coffee on the run, Sunday hangover cure, long boozy lunches, intimate evening dining or catch-up drinks among friends, there is something for everyone.
“The menu offers innovative dishes with an Aussie twist, specialty cocktails made with a little flair, artisanal Australian wines, local craft beers and specialty coffee.”
At just 27 years of age, Mr Bailey already has a swag of experience in the hospitality industry.
“After leaving school I studied hotel management at The Hotel School Sydney, where I further developed my passion for the hospitality industry,” he said.
“I then broadened my understanding of different cultures, traditions and foods travelling through places such as South East Asia, Europe, South America, Japan and Papua New Guinea.
“I was also fortunate enough to work away from home and spent a year in Port Douglas, North Queensland where I worked in 5-star accommodation.”
After returning to the Illawarra he continued to gain knowledge and experience in the industry, working both front and back of house in hotels, cafes, bars and restaurants.
“Whilst I was working and gaining all of this experience, I found myself constantly taking mental notes of what I liked, what I did not like and what I would do differently if it were my business,” Mr Bailey said.
“It was at this point that I realised I would one day start up and operate my own small business.”
At 23, he took the leap into the business world and went into a partnership with a friend opening Yarnsy’s cafe in Tarrawanna.
“The business took off from the get-go and instantly attained a good following and solid customer base,” he said.
Over four years Yarnsy’s flourished and the Tarrawanna village centre was thriving.
“It gave me great pride hearing praise and positive feedback from the community and it was such an achievement to both myself and my business partner to see the centre of Tarrawanna flooded with people, which differed significantly to what it was when Yarnsy’s first opened,” he said.
A couple years into operating Yarnsy’s café, Mr Bailey began to explore the idea of opening a business that would tap into a new market.
“The long-term goal of mine was to create an establishment that boasts elegance and mirrors the class of the cocktail bars and cafes in Melbourne,” he said.
“Towards the end of 2017, I ran the idea past my parents about taking over the old [Bulli] chemist shop and converting it to a cafe and rooftop bar.”
Mr Bailey’s parents bought the pharmacy, which in recent years relocated into the nearby Woolworths shopping complex, at 251 Princes Highway Bulli and renovated the old weatherboard house at the back for their business, Smart Electrical Contractors. He approached his parents for a lease on the old shop for his bar and cafe proposal.
“They loved the idea and so began the planning stage,” he said.
“With the help of designer Alex Urena Design Studio, we came up with a set of plans that I was extremely proud of. Unfortunately these plans did not pass council as they deemed the changes too significant and being a heritage site they could not approve such major changes, such as the construction of a second story.
“It was quite hard to take, but we didn’t give up on the dream model. We got a whole team of specialists on board; heritage consultants, town planners, designers, and together, with the help from Alex Urena Design Studio again, we came up with a blueprint that not only respected the views of council and the heritage board, but also worked beautifully with my business plan for the building,” he said.
“Council were happy with the amended set of plans and finally approved the DA.”
Although the initial covered rooftop bar model could not go ahead, Mr Bailey said he is “extremely happy and proud of the plans” for the site.
“Using innovative, architecturally engineered products, we’ve designed a way to utilise the rooftop terrace without the construction of a second story,” he said.
“This has allowed me to fulfil my dream of having a rooftop bar, whilst still satisfying the requirements of council and the heritage board.”
By the end of 2019 Mr Bailey had the lease secured, the liquor licence approved, and the plans certified ready to start the build.
Before Mr Bailey had barely started, construction came to a standstill throughout the summer as the builder was a captain in the bushfire brigade and was fighting some of the worse fires the country has ever seen.
“The pandemic outbreak in March didn’t help the productivity of the build, as most of the country went into lock down and prioritised the health and safety of loved ones,” he said.
Some good news came for Mr Bailey in July when the sale of Yarnsy’s was finalised.
“Luckily for us the buyer was not scared off from the pandemic and had faith that the business and the community of Tarrawanna would come back as strong as ever on the other side of the pandemic,” he said.
“Since then the build has come along in strides and momentum as continued to grow. The shop is finally starting to take its shape and it’s an awesome feeling knowing the finish line is in sight.
“I’m hopeful the build and fit out will be completed by the end of January, so we can open the doors and showcase this achievement, welcoming the Bulli and greater community, in early February.”
Mr Bailey, who has spent about $500,000 in the restoration of the site and fit out of the business, said the discovery of a fireplace during the work, boarded over from the past tenants, revealed an interesting glimpse into the history and character of the building.
“Our heritage consultant requested that the antique fireplace be preserved, which beautifully complimented the heritage exterior while gaining the benefits of an indoors open fire,” he said.
Mr Bailey said he hoped his new business would assist Bulli shopping centre to grow in prosperity whilst respectfully maintaining its historic character.
“I would love to see the retail centre of Bulli mirror the success that the small businesses in Thirroul have done over the past decade, while keeping up with the contemporary trends that major cities such as Melbourne have done so well,” he said.
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