Why dining precincts are taking over
Last year saw the development of several mixed use precincts, with many like Sydney’s Tramsheds and the Gold Coast’s Robina Centre, heralding a new era that puts food at the front.
As the national leasing manager for Mirvac, Manuela De Rossi was working on the revamped Broadway Shopping Centre food court at the same time she was overseeing Tramsheds.
“They’re totally different projects; one is positioned as very bespoke and one as very fast paced. At Broadway we’ve got really good operators, but they had to be QSRs that could handle the pace of lunch – places like Schnitz, Guzman, Din Tai Fung and Grilled – without cutting costs on quality. That’s important for any of our food precincts,” De Rossi told Hospitality.
“At Tramsheds we wanted everything to be very bespoke, so no franchises. Butcher and Farmer, for example, has never been done before. Then there’s Fish & Co, where you can get sustainable seafood and sit down to eat or take-away or even buy fresh fish. The blend of fresh and prepared food is unique.”
Operators had to understand the venue’s ethos, which meant agreeing with and believing in five key principles.
“First, we wanted a thriving retail space; second, we wanted a social space, a hub for living; third, we wanted helping hands, in terms of price point and service; fourth, we wanted operators that would never stand still, but constantly evolve; and last, we wanted them to love thy neighbour, which for us, is about sharing everything with the community,” said De Rossi.
Something that’s important for any food precinct, no matter the ethos, is having the right mix of vendors.
“We want everyone to make money, so we don’t want duplicates,” said De Rossi.
While principles were non-negotiable, operators at Tramsheds were free to develop individual concepts for their venues.
“We have heritage requirements and we don’t want the operators to hide anything; we want to hear the story. Of course we had to look at everything holistically and make sure everyone’s plans fit together, so we gave them a guide and the principles, but other than that we let everyone go for it,” said De Rossi.
For Mirvac, said De Rossi, the continued urbanisation of Australian life means the trend towards mixed use spaces that don’t treat food as an afterthought is unlikely to subside and the company has many more developments on the cards – from Brisbane’s Southbank to Perth’s Underground at Allendale Square.
Visualisation of Tramsheds.
An operator’s perspective – Honeyeater Kitchen, The Kitchens at Robina Town Centre
“We liked the idea of having like-minded people around us and we liked the local area – we wanted something that would bring a broad range of people to us,” said Trent Scarr on his decision to open his Asian-influenced, Tapas-style venue, Honeyeater Kitchen, in Robina Town Centre’s The Kitchens.
“We put a mood board together with examples of what I wanted the venue to look like, including food and drink menus. The screening process took months. They had their architects look over our plans to make sure they were workable and would fit in. So while they didn’t have a lot of creative input, they did give the plans a tick of approval.
“We wanted a bit more exhaust, for example, so that we could put a smoker in, but they’d already allocated a certain amount for each tenant. We worked around it; at least there are specific guidelines and it helped that if you were onsite, the developers were onsite so you could get answers pretty quickly.”
Scarr also went to three group meetings that explained the ethos of The Kitchens and, since opening in November 2016, has forged both social and business relationships with fellow venues and purveyors.
“It’s almost like hanging out with your mates. I’m trying to use as much as I can from the centre, even though we do a lot from scratch in-house. We use the bakery, the butcher and the Earth Markets. So in that way we do collaborate.
“And we want to do a long table because it’s a big beautiful space and there are a lot of talented people in here, so it’d be nice to create something together.”
Trent Scarr, chef and owner Honeyeater Kitchen.