November 11, 2016 was just another Thursday for many of us. But for popular Docklands venue, The Woolshed, it was a day of devastation. A massive fire broke out at the modern waterfront pub, events and dining venue. Trying to control the flames at the venue was Events Manager, Lee Cleal. Lee is a national award-winning Manager with a true passion for hospitality. Here, he speaks to Urbanbar about the highly anticipated reopening of The Woolshed.
You’ve had quite a dramatic six months. Tell us how you are, and what’s planned for your upcoming relaunch.
Last year was going fantastically, we went up to the Gold Coast for the National Pub Awards, only to come back to this devastating fire on November 11th. It was hard. We had to relocate and cancel 155 Christmas parties, and we then had to plan the refurb, all during our summer events season.
It had a real effect on me – how can it not? I was there fighting the fire when it happened.
I’m so heavily invested in my clients. It was horrible to have to speak to them and say, “we have to find you a new venue”. But it does make you re-evaluate what’s important and take a look at the business with fresh eyes. That’s the silver lining.
From the New Year, we made the decision not to mention the fire anymore. We didn’t want to carry any negative connotations into the New Year. Instead, we really focused on the amazing, cool aspects of our reopening. We have a shiny new venue, and we’ve ticked off around 95% of our wish list for what we really wanted in the relaunched Woolshed.
In a sense, you’ve been able to find a positive side to what happened?
I’m a glass half full person. I think you have to be or else you’ll be very depressed! (laughs)
People had always said to us, “you guys are more than a pub”. And it’s true, in many ways. Even six months before the fire, we were looking at removing the word ‘pub’ from our name. In a way, the fire was the perfect opportunity for a rebrand and an update to better reflect what we do.
We have a new name. Woolshed: restaurant | bar | events
It does seem like your part of the Docklands has come a long way over the past 12 months. The vibe has lifted in the area and it feels like there’s more going on?
You’re spot on. There are a lot of new businesses and hotels in the area – especially with Four Points by The Sheraton and Peppers Docklands nearby. Then there’s major corporates like KPMG joining us. It’s starting to feel like a real extension of the city, and a new demographic has come along with that.
What do you like the most about working with your team?
I have this saying: you cannot teach a personality! You can teach anything – but not personality; you’ve either got it or you don’t. To work in this industry you need a thick skin, a sense of humour, and passion. Our team lives and breathes hospitality and it really makes my job easy.
On another positive note, throughout our closure, our management team have been retained. We worked really hard within our network to find alternative workplaces for our casuals. And it’s great to have many of our former casuals coming back with our reopening.
You seem to put a lot of thought into the uniforms and design generally through the restaurant?
That’s the whole reason why we approached Urbanbar, we wanted our uplifted brand to be reflected through our uniforms, we wanted everything to work together to represent who we are and what we’re about. I spent a lot of time researching uniform option. We’re the Woolshed – so people immediately think ‘industrial, rustic’. It’s fantastic to have uniforms that work with this. We love the leather trims and the sturdy, hardware detailing. It was a no-brainer. The real benefit of Urbanbar is their brilliant customer service. The Urbanbar team has been really understanding over the last few months, and great to deal with.
Finally, what’s your perfect after-work drink?
For me it’s an Old fashioned. Made with a smoky whiskey or quality bourbon.
To find out more about Woolshed: restaurant | bar | events visit their website: http://www.woolshed.melbourne/