With a portfolio of almost 30 venues and a 900-strong team, Seagrass Boutique Hospitality Group is powered by its people, says founder Bradley Michael.

Bradley Michael has come a long way from operating a hospital canteen in South Africa. His experience in hospitality spans a number of sectors and countries, and includes the launch of the Blacksteer burger and ribs franchise in South Africa, which Michael grew from conception to 156 stores in just five years, before listing it on the Johannesburg stock exchange in 1990.

Lucky for us, he and his family moved to Australia 13 year ago and then founded the Seagrass Boutique Hospitality Group in 2003, after already successfully launching and growing the popular The Meat & Wine Co brand.

Today, Seagrass also includes the brands Ribs & Burgers, Italian Street Kitchen and Hunter & Barrel, with 26 sites all up and a number of new concepts in the pipeline.

“I’ve been working on a new concept; a sustainable way of eating where we give the consumer a good understanding of where the product comes from. It’s going to be a farm to table concept called Butcher and the Farmer,” Michael told Hospitality.

Hunter-Barrel_0274.jpgHunter & Barrel

Located inside the restored Harold Park tram sheds in Sydney’s Glebe, the new venture will encompass a restaurant specialising in humble farm to table fare, as well as a retail space consisting of a deli, a butcher and fresh local produce. There’s talk of having a farm on-site too, and Seagrass has partnered with chef Jarred Ingersoll (ex-Dank St Depot, Barrel and the Beast) to help bring the concept to life.

“I’ve been yearning for quite a while to go into the sustainable farm to table business. It’s about letting your customer know exactly what they’re getting, where it’s coming from, who the farmer is, what type of product they’re eating, that it’s got no chemicals or hormones and it’s not been pumped with steroids. That’s been a big drive for us, and that’s why I got involved with Jarred.”

Bradley, who’s also working on a new chicken concept (think free range chooks, grilled or deep fried), says growth has been steady over the past 15 years, and while some might think business gets easier the bigger you get, that’s not always the case.

The Essentials:

  • Number of sites? 26
  • Number of staff members? 941
  • Most valuable asset in the business? Good back of house systems, and a good people balance sheet
  • Plans for 2016? Expand the group with 10 openings slated for the year

“It gets harder from a control point and a management point of view, but from a buying and a product point of view – because of the volumes you do – it’s easier because suppliers give you better deals because they want to work with you.”

Managing people and relationships is the most challenging, but also the most rewarded part of operating a growing business.

The Meat & Wine Co

“It’s a challenge; dealing with people is always a challenge because they wake up in different frames of mind and moods. Our training and HR departments are the two strongest arms in the business at the moment: looking after people, training the new guys and having ongoing training all the time.”

He insists the company’s people are its most valuable asset, and with such strong expansion plans (10 additional sites this year), the business can’t afford to high levels of staff turnover.

“The biggest thing in our business is people. Finding the right people, managing them, leading them, giving them a clear vision, making them feel valued and appreciated, and paying them a little bit more than the industry demands. We want to grow a good people balance sheet so that if we’re growing – like we are now – we can grow from within because the people we’ve hired are potential leaders.”

ribs-and-burgers.jpgRibs & Burgers

Once Seagrass managers get to a certain level in the business, there’s potential for them to be offered an investment opportunity. This, Bradley says, helps them feel like they’re working towards a goal which will deliver more than just financial rewards.

“We have quite a few working partners in key positions. I think that’s most important: that they feel that it’s their business and they’re working the hours for themselves, like there’s something at the end of the rainbow for them. It isn’t just a job with a salary.

“Everything else is a given in this business. If you don’t have the right back of house systems and you don’t hire the right people … then they’ll leave you and they’ll go somewhere else. I’m proud of this team. I think they’ve done an amazing job.”


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