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Ask an Expert S01.E03 : The Second Venue – Opening a second venue

For skilled café and restaurant owners, the world is your oyster – already own a rustic neighbourhood café? Maybe your next one will be space-themed in the middle of the city. Or totally vegan, out on your mum’s farm. Your vision is the only thing holding you back.

By Chloe Chaplin

How do you know when it’s the right time to expand? There are so many unknowns, but luckily there are people who have been there before you. We got some of those frontrunners together to give you the down-low, in the third of our Ask an Expert series.

Meet the experts

Ash Davis, Copper Pot and Messer
Chef Ash Davis has been knocking around in the hospo scene for a long time, in Europe and then back to his hometown of Melbourne. In 2015, he started his first restaurant, Copper Pot in Melbourne. It has European regional fare with a strong emphasis on local, seasonal produce.
In 2018, he opened his second restaurant, Messer. With a completely different vibe, it relies on German classics, like Wurst and Spätzle, as well as some über-modern interpretations (think: smoked trout sandwich).

Dan Dick, Age of Sail and Nigel
Legendary Dan Dick opened his first co-owned café, Age of Sail, in 2015. Then in 2018, he opened Nigel. While the emphasis in both joints is on quality coffee, their approaches are very different. Age of Sail has an industrial feel, with beautifully refined café food. Nigel is tucked away in a residential area with a more relaxed feel and food you’d remember from your childhood – the always-favourite-often-underrated jaffle, for example. Nigel is named after Dan’s grandfather and is designed to be a slice of community where no-one is a stranger.

Both guys have learned lessons from their escapades in the Melbourne food scene and dish the dirt on how to tell when you’re (really) ready for your second venue.
When is it time to open your second hospo venue?

You’re ready for more

Ash worked for other people for so long and would watch them thinking, ‘I can do this’. That was the impetus behind Copper Pot.
After five years, he started thinking about his next step. He wanted to bring something new to Melbourne – and uncover something else in himself. That was when Messer began, different in so many ways that it grew Ash’s skills and knowledge. If you’re beginning to look around at what you have and think, “what else?” it might be time.

You have other people you trust

Dan and Ash are united on this – you cannot do it all. If you’re working 70 hours a week on your original restaurant, there is no way you can spend 70 hours at the new place as well. At some stage, you need to hire great staff and trust them to get things done.
Ash says, ‘You have to step out and empower the people around you. If you can’t let go, you can’t grow.’
You need to make some decisions about where best to spend your time. You’re not needed for the 6 am fish delivery, for example. Trust that others will be good enough, even if it’s not perfectly up to your standard.
Dan hired a 2IC who is, in his words, the yin to his yang. While he’s better at being front-of-house, she’s great at keeping everything stocked and organised behind the scenes. But for her to excel, he needed to step back and let her.

You’re clear on your vision and processes

To make a second venue work, you need to be able to set parameters and make sure your team really understands them – that should include what you’re trying to achieve and the role you expect each person to play. Arrange a reporting-in system and schedule meetings with your key staff (then make sure they happen, no matter what). If you don’t have that clarity, put off your new venture until you do.

You’re ready to let the detail go

When setting up your second venue, you quickly learn that your time is best used where your strengths lie. You should be worrying about the gas connection or the liquor license, not the pattern on the forks or which toilet roll holder to install.
Dan explains, ‘Spend as much of your time doing what you’re good at and hire others to fill the gap.’ To open a second venue successfully, you need to be ready to let that total control go and let others bring your vision to life.

You’ve got contingency

Whatever your open date, add a month or two. Whatever your budget, add 10%. Cash and time overruns are almost inevitable, so if you’re stretched for time or money, wait a bit so you can hit the ground running.

You’re comfortable with flexibility

With a second business, you’ll need to be comfortable tweaking what you offer and how you work. That’s because you’ll have to be responsive to the needs of the new business, which could be different in ways that you can’t predict. While your first place might be able to capture lots of foot traffic, the second might turn out to be more of a destination restaurant that needs marketing. You can – and should – try things to see what works. If that scares the willies out of you, you might need to hold off on your second-venue dream for a while.

You trust your instincts

Your second hospo joint will come with extra financial pressure, but you’ll also have a secret weapon: you’ll have done it before. You’ll have the lie of the land and a better understanding of the financial side of things. That means your instincts will be honed – you’ll know off the top of your head how many coffees you need to sell a day, for example.


You’ll also have your finger on the pulse of trends in your business and in the hospo industry as a whole. All of this will give you more confidence in your decisions and make everything feel less panicky. If you’re not at that place with your current venue, wait, and work on building your gut instincts – you’ll need them.

Ready? Time to take a risk

If you’re onto your second venture, you’ve got a whole heap of extra knowledge, confidence and instincts. It gives you a wider scope for your restaurant or café and lets you be more responsive to the market. You probably also have great networks – trusted people who’ll be happy to give you their time and advice.
You know what chances you can take – and which ones you can’t. And most importantly, you know how to surround yourself with people who you trust to do their jobs well. That’s the key to success in running your second hospo location – being able to let other people step in. It’s the only way you, and your new business, with thrive.

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