WAGFG caught up with George Kailis, owner and operator of The Shorehouse, Kailis Fish Market Cafe, Canteen Trigg and Island Market. George is used to building venues, now he’s building cubby houses, obsessive plant watering and planning for the future.
Q: George, you are the 2019 WAGFG Hospitality Operator of the Year. You have four thriving venues and employ over 300 staff. What’s been running through your mind this last month?
A: The last month has been totally bizarre, frustrating, emotional and confusing. I like to think we are fairly good at adapting to changing market conditions by taking the appropriate measures in the businesses to suit. This thing though has basically just knocked us for six. Unfortunately, or fortunately I’m the type of individual that won’t rest until I’ve worked out a solution to get around any major obstacle so let’s just say it’s been a very restless few weeks.
Q: That’s in line with what we’ve been hearing consistently from restaurateurs. There certainly is no guidebook, let alone an end date. We notice you’ve been spending a lot of time watering your plants at your four venues, giving you lots of thinking time no doubt! So, what’s next? Can we expect to see any of the venues re-open in a semi-permanent model?
A: Yes, I have been watering! The manager at Canteen did message me yesterday to ask that I please stay away from the plants which is a fair sign of my gardening abilities. I was also the family hairdresser for a day until my wife fired me.
No there is no guidebook. We began our modelling of this (both financially & operationally) about three-four weeks before closure which was quite early. Basically, it was a semi-circle shaped curve and we were on the way down at that point. It turned into more of a straight line down though which we didn’t predict. In the weeks that followed we all really just couldn’t wait to get to the bottom as managing that slippery slope down was a nightmare. Juggling new social distancing measures which created new dining room layouts, staff safety and morale, community safety and what we should do morally was tough. We were flying blind.
We closed all venues when the government called time on us. Only really Canteen is built for takeaway, but we decided to close that also. We needed some time to pause and start to understand this thing better. It then become a daily process of educating ourselves as to what we were dealing with and trying to feel if / when we were getting close to the bottom of the curve. On that note we may re-open Canteen the coming weeks for takeaway only. The restaurant assets can’t open until restrictions are lifted in part, but I don’t think that is far away.
Q: Are you implementing any strategies as a group to keep key staff engaged?
A: I’m putting out a weekly email Sundays to our senior teams with my thoughts on where we are at and providing some guidance. I speak with our senior op’s mangers William and Aaron multiple times a day. We still have full time HR going and administration which have been very busy particularly working through all the government stimulus packages and how it will all work for the team.
Q: It’s impossible to predict the future, but what’s your gut feel on how the industry will recover? Do you think people will be more conscious of spending?
A: We will be back, and we will get over this thing. That could be 6, 12 or 18 months away with a vaccine in play but I’m totally confident hospitality will return to normal at some point. In mean time when restrictions are gently lifted it will be about adapting to them and embracing this very unusual situation. I think we must accept what is and push forward safely until normality returns to hospitality. Western Australia has done an outstanding job of dealing with this as a community, it’s also a credit to all our political leaders, Mark McGowan in particular.
CV-19 has taken a financial toll on everyone, but I think with travel restrictions in play for some time we could actually rebound quite well on the upward trajectory of that curve I’ve been talking about. I think going out for beer or a meal will be critical for anyone’s sanity particularly those home schooling! Our regular’s will be there for us all on the flipside.
Q: Tell us about home life! What have you as a family been up to?
It’s actually been great to spend some time with the kids, if anything positive has come from this it’s more quality family time. We have been hanging out following the governments advice basically. So mostly it’s been at home stuff – cubby house builds, games of Jenga and Uno, hand ball then some bike rides and surfing.
Thanks George, keep us posted when Canteen Trigg reopens for coffee and takeaway.George Kailis spoke to Georgia Moore, from WAGFG.