Ben May, owner, Burleigh Pavilion
You're taking people's hard-earned cash, so you want them to feel like they've got value for it and really, really enjoyed it ...
Gold Coast, meet Ben May. This is the man behind the transformation of one of our city’s most iconic absolute-beachfront destinations. In just a few short weeks, Ben and his team will unveil Burleigh Pavilion – a multi-level restaurant and bar offering that is set to herald a new era for the storied Burleigh headland site. Ben is a Sydney-based businessman, keen surfer and father of four boys, who generally prefers to let his venues do the talking for him. We were keen to get to know him a little more, so Ben took five to chat to us about bringing Burleigh Pavilion to life.
Tell us a little about your vision for Burleigh Pavilion and how the concept first came together?
The vision was really to turn it into a proper ‘pavilion’. The site didn’t look or feel or have the presence of a classic coastal or beachfront pavilion, like say the Bondi Pavilion or the Bather’s Pavilion at Balmoral, or some of the other classic spots you see across Sydney and Melbourne. The architecture that has gone into this gives it that presence, with the arches and the properly ‘finished’ textured concretes for example. It’s about making the building look and feel like it really belongs. It (the site) has been chopped up and changed over the years – so we’re trying to make it look beautiful architecturally so it enhances the beach. We’re really trying to make this one of the most beautiful buildings on the coast.
What drew you to this site and more specifically, to the Gold Coast?
I’m drawn to great sites, really. My site in Manly is as good as it gets, and I’ve got a great spot in Bali where I’ve done a Mrs Sippy. I saw this building at Burleigh and I thought it was surely one of the greatest sites on the east coast. When you talk spectacular locations on the Gold Coast, you more think of the surf club spots. Surf clubs are their own unique offering, and that’s great, but we want to step it up a little. And the success from the guys at Rick Shores shows that there is definitely a market for something a little above a surf club offering. I’m a surfer, my kids surf, so coming up here is not an issue. My grandma lived here when I was growing up, so I spent a lot of my holidays up here when I was young, so I am really fond of the area.
When the doors to Burleigh Pavilion are open, what is it that you hope locals will experience when they first walk in?
I want people to feel like it’s incredible, but accessible. I don’t want people to leave after a meal or spending some time there, thinking ‘gees I’ve been hit a bit hard for that’. I want people to think ‘yeah, that was amazing and it was really worth what I spent’. We’re not going to be dirt cheap – but we’re not going to be crazy expensive. My model is to really make people genuinely feel like they get a bit of value. You’re taking people’s hard-earned cash, so you want them to feel like they’ve got value for it and really, really enjoyed it. It’s a significant thing to take people’s money, and you want to make sure that trade is fair. I just want people to feel relaxed and happy, and think ‘wow, this is bloody insane’, you know? Different venues mean different things, so while I don’t have a common theme, the things that I keep drilling into my staff are the same. Like product, quality of service, value, cleanliness, safety – just those really simple things. I think when you have a locations like Burleigh and Manly, if I do those really simple things right, then there’s no reason for people not to come back again and again. You’ve really got to tick those fundamental hospitality boxes.
There’s no question that the site itself is exposed to the elements when a significant storm rolls through. Are there any major changes or enhancements in place if history repeats itself?
We’ve certainly future proofed it. An incredible amount of steel and concrete has gone in – like, millions and millions of dollars worth. To be honest, our plan when one of these one-in-100-year storms rolls in, the ones that seem to happen every five years (laughs), is to rip all of the ocean-facing windows out and sandbag about five metres back and then let the ocean do its thing. Then, we’ll clean up and put the windows back in. I purchased the building about three years ago, and three months later we had one of those storms. The issue was that the windows were left in and it took time to get new windows made and installed – so now we’ll pull them out, and we might lose a week’s trade at the most if we do get one of those events again. It’s just part of it.
Let’s take it back. Tell us about your background and how you first got into the industry?
Back in the day, I did two years of a building degree and failed that miserably, I couldn’t do the maths part. I was a mad-keen rugby player, then I did my knee twice, so that was over too. I was a skier, so I went off skiing and ended up working in some kitchens in Europe and got a real passion for food and beverage. Then I came back and got really lucky with some jobs working for some really smart hotel operators in Sydney – and just got a real passion for it. I got my first pub, The Light Brigade in Sydney, when I was about 26 and kind of went from there.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
It was from my old man. He used to say, “I don’t care what you do, just find something you love and you’ll work your ass off at it – and anyone who works their ass off, will end up doing really well.”
Burleigh Pavilion is due to open in December 2018. Take a peek at what’s in store over here – we’ll have all of the details when the doors are open.