OPERATOR FOCUS: Taj Hospitality


Interview by Simon McGoram

Photography courtesy of venue

“You are your own greatest competition, create your own handwriting and combine your business sense with your gut instincts.”  – Kevin Singh


Hello. First of all who is Taj Hospitality?

SS: “Taj Hospitality is the team behind The Red Hummingbird and new venue The Emerald Peacock. The team is a partnership between Kevin Singh (KS), Sam Astbury (SA), Thomas Kiltorp (TK) and more recently myself; Sharan Sagoo (SS). The guys share a wealth of hospitality industry experience and vast international experience. What once started off as a trio is now a dynamic foursome focused on success!”

KS:  “I have consulted for a range of events including the ARIAS, Spring Racing Carnival and the Logies.  I’ve also been credited for promoting ‘flair awareness’ within the Melbourne industry by organising local flair comps and representing Australia at the Red Bull World Flair Championship in Dubai in 2002 where I was ranked number 10 in the world. In the past I have also hosted regular seasonal short courses on ‘Making Great Cocktails’ at Australia’s leading hospitality school William Angliss.”

TK: “To blow my own trumpet at little, I was voted Melbourne’s ‘Bartender of the Year’ by The Age while I was working at Richmond’s The Collection and then went on to a position at Bacardi Lion as a National Brand Ambassador. In 2006 I left Bacardi to pursue the opportunity of being part of The Red Hummingbird.”

SA: “I’m a former Perth local, having worked at the well reputed Luxe Bar and Hudson Gallery. I’ve also acquired a few years of international experience in Monaco, the UK, Dubai and Kuala Lumpur and have managed to collect a handful of industry awards over the years. I feel I’ve got an aptitude for the cocktails and I’ve even managed to get a number of them in prominent magazines including Gourmet Traveller, Australian Bartender of course, and Marie Claire.  I’ve recently left Perth to take more of a hands on role with both businesses.”

SS: “Well, I’m the only female in the partnership!  I come from a fashion background really. I’ve worked over 25 years in fashion design and business development; I even taught fashion at RMIT. But, I decided to take a break from teaching to work alongside these guys to lend my expertise in design to help the opening of Emerald Peacock its interior.”

Have you been involved in other projects apart from Red Hummingbird and Emerald Peacock?

KS: “All of us consult with other industry based businesses, but both the Red Hummingbird and Emerald Peacock are our key projects and focus.”

How did you get involved in business together?

SS: “Kevin is the driving force behind both ventures, he was the initial visionary who saw an opportunity and began the initial negotiations to turn the vision into a reality. Kevin approached his best friend Thomas to invest in The Red Humming, Thomas introduced Kevin to Sam and thus the partnership was formed.  Having been involved in the background at every step of the way, I then joined the trio two years later as a director.”

What are you respective roles in the business?

KS:  “We believe that any successful business is based on structure and a workable hierarchy.  I closely manage both operations and setting the direction. Thomas and Sam are responsible for the day to day operations of The Emerald Peacock, while Sharan is responsible for the marketing of the venue.”

What’s with the bird theme?

TK: “There were many debates over what we were initially going to call the venue that we now know as The Red Hummingbird.  The venue was going to be called The Angel Share which as some would know refers to the distillation and aging  process of rum – great if you specialise in rum, but not so fitting if you don’t!

SS: “The name was literally changed at the eleventh hour to The Red Hummingbird which was derived from the hummingbird wallpaper that features heavily in the interiors.  We have had such a positive response to the name which is unique and works synergistically with our interior that we decided to build on this and hence have called our new project The Emerald Peacock.  The whole bird theme is our fingerprint and our intention is to continue to build on this strength.

Are there other aspects of these two venues that tie them together?

KS: “Apart from the obvious bird inspired name, bird wallpaper and the fact that both venues have a rooftop we have made a conscious effort to create an environment that differs to the Hummingbird.  There is nothing exciting in creating a duplicate, nor is it good business sense to replicate a similar looking venue that is positioned around the corner.  Our intention is not to rob Peter to pay Paul but to have two venues that are sustainable and profitable due to uniqueness, both establishments have to have the X factor and hopefully we have created this.”

What is the most important thing you learned from opening Red Hummingbird that you’ve been able to apply to your new venue Emerald Peacock?

KS: “Probably that you are your own greatest competition, create your own handwriting and combine your business sense with your gut instincts.”

Why do you Emerald Peacock will work?

SS: “Distinction, service and ambience.  We feel very confident that we have created a space that is unlike any other in Melbourne. When designing the venue of course we created mood boards and themes but when it was crunch time we set our own trends and designed the venue from our own ideas.  The challenge was to create a space that worked with the ergonomics and structure of the building and at the same type reflect the cosmopolitan nature of Melbourne.

SA: “As well as having a space that is not ‘just another venue’ we have invested a great deal of time in the training and development of a crew that is experienced, passionate and consistent and a crew that rate service as their number one priority. Let’s hope that all of these factors combined with great food and drinks prove to be fruitful!”

How many days off have you had over the past year?

SS: “Literally none!  We have spent almost two years on The Emerald Peacock from negotiating stage to now and we still are not done!”

A predictable question, but has the G.F.C (global financial crisis) affected your business?

KS: “At this stage no.  We are conscious of the vulnerable financial times and, like many people who are yet to be affected, business is as normal.  Whether times are good or bad the key factor is to maintain your focus and ensure consistency in your business in terms of customer experience, service, quality and expenses.   At the end of the day, you can have the best looking venue but if you are not focused on your bottom line your sustainability suffers.”

What do you think the industry needs more of?

SA: “More venues that are original and more bars that take bartending seriously and abide by the rules in terms of responsible service of alcohol.  Many establishments have suffered as a result of negative press and hype caused by wrong doers.”

And less of?

TK: Imitators who knock off overseas venues, claim credit and hope that nobody notices!  And of course the depletion of venues not enforcing RSA obligations.

Taj Hospitality’s Top Five Tips for a Successful Bar

KS: “A great location is crucial.”

TK: “For me strong networking, communication and negotiating skills are a must have.”

SA: “You’re not going anywhere if you don’t have a good understanding of your target market.”

SS: “Try to identify your X factor or market differentiator.”

KS: “And above all have patience, persistence and total control of your project from day dot.”

To read the 4bars review of Emerald Peacock, click here.

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