Introducing Ellen Cahill, the 2IC at Boilermaker House in Melbourne

For those who haven’t been there, can you describe what Boilermaker House is all about?
All things whisky, craft beers and amazing charcuterie ‘n’ cheese boards.

Tell us a bit about how you got started in the hospitality industry?
At 22, I took an all-rounder gig at The Record Crate, Glebe, Sydney to finance my lifestyle in comedy production. I moved to Melbourne a couple of years later and got into hospo full-time when I started at Heartbreaker at 26.

What’s your current role, and what does it entail?
I am assistant venue manager at Boilermaker House. My core responsibilities are operations, maintaining standards, OH & S and generally supporting Adam Stewart, our VM.

“The continued squeeze on resources and skilled staff in Australia is taking a toll on all of us. Continuing to open up at pre-COVID capacities while operating with about 75% of pre-COVID staff or even less forces us to be creative with our staffing solutions.”

It’s been a tough 18 months for the hospitality industry in Melbourne, how has this impacted you and your team?
Like a lot of people in our industry, COVID made me re-assess my priorities and pushed me to take a step up into this role in January 2021. The continued squeeze on resources and skilled staff in Australia is taking a toll on all of us. Continuing to open up at pre-COVID capacities while operating with about 75% of pre-COVID staff or even less forces us to be creative with our staffing solutions. It also means all team members have stepped up and taken on more responsibility than they previously would. On the flip side, the current team are tight and enthusiastic: I love them!

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How far along in your career did you make the transition from bartender to manager?
After a few months of managing a now long-gone Little Bourke Street venue in 2016, my first full-time manager role was as bar manager with Bluebonnet BBQ in East Brunswick, 2018.

What do you think are the skills that are needed for a bartender to move into management — is there a different way of looking at things?
A keen attention to detail and having bigger picture functionality i.e. understanding how the whole venue functions not just your section.
People management, in being able to constructively manage people so that they want to give their best.
Humility.
The understanding that paperwork never stops.
Time management.

What advice do you have to rookie bartenders starting out in their careers? Were there any big mistakes you made you’d like to see others avoid?
Use your days off to rest as well as have fun. Study, study, study – if you want to be a great bartender it takes more than charm and sweat. Show and use initiative if you want to get recognised. As for big mistakes to avoid, I’ve never fallen foul of it but I stand by never screwing the crew – it is rarely worth it in the long run.

The impressive backbar at Boilermaker House

When you walk into a bar, what are you looking for? What makes a great bar experience?
The big hello! Nothing worse than being ignored.
Signs that a bar clearly takes pride in itself, from dive joints all the way up to the top end.
The classic trifecta: Lights; Music; Temperature. Get those right and you’re half-way there.

Mentors? People who have inspired you?
I wasn’t brought up in this industry like a lot of other bartenders so I’ve only recently discovered the wider bar community. I will say that Krystal Hart is killing it at the moment and since I first walked into the Black Pearl, I’ve admired Shay Chamberlain.

What are you drinking right now?
As a whisky person, I’m working through a bottle of Gospel Solera Rye at home, though I do love a Balter XPA beer to quench my thirst after a long shift – it’s also a cracking walking beer.

Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
Recently I started studying for my Certificate in Distilling with an aim to transition from service into production. Dream job: distilling at Bruichladdich on Islay. I love their ethos and the original open-air 1881 mash tun is gorgeous. Heck, they even do amazing gin.

Once we kick these lockdowns to the curb, you can visit Ellen and the team at Boilermaker House in Melbourne.

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