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Behind the Kounta

A Conversation with Carlton Wine Room: Celebrating Balance in Work, Life, Food & Wine

We recently caught up with Andrew to chat about his background prior to Carlton, the story behind the venue, and how the guys use Kounta to run a tight ship.

By Chloe Chaplin

Featuring a menu that celebrates all seasons, palettes and, most importantly, wines, Melbourne’s Carlton Wine Room underwent a major revamp just shy of a year ago, and Carlton residents have been loving it up.

The renovated space feels open, more minimalist and, dare-we-say, even more, inviting than ever before. With the revamp also came new ownership, and the seasonally changing 100-bottle wine offering is back to being front and centre stage, just as we like it. Seasoned chef John Paul Twomey’s approachable offerings feature a delightful assortment of favourites, all designed to pair well with wine.

Carlton Wine Room – 2.0 – makes full use of every nook and cranny within the chic five-story venue, featuring three functioning spaces, a bar area, and a dining room. It even houses a full-fledged wine cellar in the basement where patrons can book private events and dinners. The hotspot remains a bit of an institution in lively Carlton, and while co-owners and hospo vets, Andrew Joy and Travis Howe, are focused on delivering a consistently memorable dining experience rather than pushing their limits and expanding right away, they can’t help the fact that they’re just plain good. Which equals popular. And crowded. Having a reliable system in place to run their day-to-day operations allows them to maintain a work-life balance that helps them keep the focus on what matters: quality food, great wine, and awesome customer service.

We recently caught up with Andrew to chat about his background prior to Carlton, the story behind the venue, and how the guys use Kounta to run a tight ship and keep that enviable work-life balance in check.

Beyond Marion, what’s your background and how did you get involved with Carlton Wine Room?

My background runs pretty deep in hospitality. I started working with wine when I was fifteen, and that led to a lot of the things relative to wine, and then I did things like work in a family vineyard. All of those types of things got me into working in restaurants with people like Andrew McConnell, and then setting up some pretty major venues. Finally, the opportunity arose to purchase something – myself and my business partner have always enjoyed the building that the Carlton Wine Room is in. We had the opportunity to come in and buy that business, and to create something that we liked out of the space. That’s pretty much how we started, and that’s what the past fourteen months have been about – creating a great local venue that people like to go to at least a couple times a week. One that has good wine and good food – it’s a pretty simple approach, but that’s where we got to.

And, how would you sum up Carlton wine room in a few sentences?

It’s the local easy place to go to when you need a bit of respite from the world. It’s getting back to what a restaurant should be, which is just to get what you need and what you enjoy. It shouldn’t be a hard process, it should be an easy process. Good service and good quality products – that’s what we do here.

You have a rotating 100-bottle wine list – how does Travis choose the wines?

He’s got a pretty considered approach. We do focus a lot on biodynamic and organic producers. People who farm correctly – that’s who we’d like to see represented on our list. So, it’s a pretty eclectic and broad range within the hundred bottles, but it’s a considered selection as well. Plus, there’s also a reserve wine list which is more high-end burgundies and things like that. We like to have these around, too, because we enjoy them and we like to share them with people. We like working with things we like.

This is in addition to the hundred bottles?

Yes, there’s a working cellar here, so we have a lot of space to store the bottles. The cellar is also a private dining room.

And, what would you say makes you guys so unique and successful?

I think it’s probably the combined knowledge of many years of work in hospitality. Travis and I have probably close to thirty-five years of combined knowledge in the business. So, for a couple of young-ish guys, we’ve got a fair breadth of knowledge. I think we know what works and doesn’t work. Also, the selection of the right people to work in the venue. We need the people to fit into the team, but also the right people that can carry the way we like to do things across without fuss, you know? Our service style is not a strict service style, but it’s a very considered service style.

 

 

What made you adopt Kounta as your POS system?

Honestly, it’s an evolving system, so it was an opportunity to get in and use a system that was going to become more than just getting started from the ground up. That’s why we chose Kounta. It’s something we could see was going to evolve. It was pretty much a cafe-style system, realistically, but it’s evolving to be more of a restaurant system and for us, that’s exciting. That’s what makes us interested in the product. It’s a good price point to get in, it’s evolving, and the fact that it’s not a closed system means that you can sort of work on it from anywhere. We really enjoy that.

The more I think about restaurant work, the more I think that all of the systems need to be able to be accessed remotely. In other words, you don’t want to have people in a building all the time just for the sake of having them in the building so that they have to work on things. The cloud-based, remote-style system is the best way to go because it enables people to have a bit more work-life balance. Too often, people become tied to the site that the restaurant is at, and it’s important that they’re able to walk away from it and still get some things done, but also be away from the space so that they’re not getting fatigued from being in the building. So, that was the one thing – out of all the systems we looked at when we started, I needed to make sure that I could work on them remotely. With Kounta, I can be up at the vineyard and work on the site from here, and the vineyard is two-and-a-half hours away. I love that concept. I love the fact that I can be wherever I need to be as opposed to having to go to the shop to do the work. To me, that is the great advantage of the system.

How long was the Kounta onboarding process?

It was really simple. Mo, who’s the tech guy here, was great and he just boosted it up really fast. That whole process was pretty seamless. Sure, learning product stuff takes time, but the system is user-friendly – we can do things really quickly with it.

It sounds like it saves you a huge amount of time?

Yeah, the time saving is huge, particularly after having come from systems where you had to work on a closed system in the restaurant. It’s a far better thing to have it offsite and be able to work away from the space. It keeps us fresh when we’re on the floor. The outcome is that there’s better service when people are here, and that’s the most important thing.

Excellent. And last, do you guys have any future plans for Carlton yet?

We just want to settle in and enjoy the building. We’re enjoying being here, so I think that’s the future plan. We’re not trying to expand or go crazy. We just want to enjoy what we do. We’re doing a bit of development in some of the function rooms, but we’re not trying to take over the world – we just want to run a fun shop. I think a lot of people get caught up in, “what’s next – how big can we make this thing?” But for us, at the moment, it’s just consolidating and being here, while making sure the product is right for the local community. That’s what we do. We want to be part of this area – I think it’s a great area, and the more work we can do toward this, the bigger the benefit will be for everyone. It benefits us, and it benefits the community as well, so that’s what we want to do.