It’s no accident that our first “White with one” for 2017 is with one of the busiest people around. With restaurants, function spaces, bars, outside catering, a bakery and a new international venture, Hatem Saleh does not sit still for very long, so even catching him in that early January lull was no mean feat. Pete managed to grab him though for a quick chat to find out how he takes his coffee and what the new year holds for The Atlantic Group.
Peter: How do you take your coffee?
¾ latte with a full shot of coffee and ½ a sugar. I would have two of these a day plus another two short macchiatos. My first coffee for the day is 7.30am and I have no issue having a coffee in the evening and easily fall asleep.
Peter: That is remarkable as there is not too many people I know that can have a coffee and then go straight to sleep. How long have you worked at Atlantic Group and what is your background?
I have been a part of the hospitality industry since my first job at Melrose Conference and Function Centre in 1988. This opportunity was a real game changer for me as it set me up for my future. Five years at Melrose allowed me to develop an interest and passion for the hospitality industry, with a few jobs in-between which eventually landed me to open my first restaurant, Atlantic, in St Kilda at the age of 21.
In 1998, I realised there was a gap in the market place for function spaces seating more than 500 guests. Atlantic Group was created when we converted the abandoned South Wharf sheds into two premium event spaces before a compulsory acquisition in 2006 which led us to secure our new home at Central Pier, Docklands. It was here that the business began its transformation into a hybrid of hospitality offerings and has since grown from strength to strength.
Central Pier is now home to an eclectic mix of businesses including our Shed 14 function venues, an uber cool cocktail bar Alumbra, an authentic Middle Eastern restaurant Mama Rumaan, The Woolshed Pub and our very own Artisan Bakery, The Mill & Bakery.
Our outside catering company continues to grow also. When we launched the business in 2008 we wanted to showcase and deliver our hospitality vision and edge to a new market, which I’m pleased to say we have achieved. We now hold catering contracts at two of Australia’s most prestigious special events – The Melbourne Cup Carnival and The Formula 1® Rolex Australian Grand Prix. We also continue to cater at some of Melbourne’s greatest social events.
From here we opened our 280-seat seafood restaurant, The Atlantic, and cocktail bar, The Den, at Crown Entertainment precinct in March 2011. Our first overseas restaurant, The Atlantic Dubai, opened in December last year. It is similar in style to our restaurant here at Crown but also provides a lighter, more feminine style restaurant.
Peter: What are some of the new things happening at Atlantic Group at the moment?
We have been extremely busy. We are now running Gardens House in the Botanical Gardens and have lots of exciting plans for it. We have recently joined forces with one of Melbourne’s up and coming caterers, Tommy Collins. Tommy Collins by Atlantic Group caters to the party and social events scene, and dare I say even the odd wedding. We’re really excited about this joint venture and all it has to offer in the market place.
Peter: What are some of your proudest moments/highlights while being CEO at Atlantic Group?
All these relate back to the growth of the Atlantic Group since it started back in 1994. I’m particularly proud of the people we employ and our desire to take clients on a great journey and provide them with the best experience possible. In the end, we are all in the service business and aim to create happy clients with unforgettable experiences. I believe our team aims to achieve this on a daily basis across all our venues and that makes me feel very proud when I see people enjoying themselves at any of our venues or events.
Peter: Why is Melbourne such a great city to host major events?
We are a great city because we have lots of assets that I believe make us unique in the world. These include;
- Sporting and cultural venues and the infrastructure to support them
- A plethora of hotels and more new ones to come
- Our transport system which makes it easy to get around
- The fact that Melbourne is the ‘World’s Most Livable City’
No matter what you are into, Melbourne has something on offer for everyone.
Peter: What goes on behind the scenes with some of the major events you are involved with?
Melbourne Cup Carnival 2016 saw us deliver catering for approx. 22,000 guests over 4 days.
- 588 FOH staff
- Coordinated by 100 runners, drivers, forklift drivers
- Food prepared by nearly 200 chefs
- Support by approx. 50 stewards
On Cup Day:
- 600 guests on a 9 course degustation menu – that’s 5,400 plated meals
- 840 guests on a 3 course seated menu – 504kg of chicken and 300kg of salmon (just for main course)
- 1,600 guests on a buffet menu – 0.5 ton of beef brisket in one day
- 2,960 guests on grazing menus – 71,040 items in one day
Fast food facts for the week:
- 5 tonne beef brisket
- 9,000 crumbed chicken tenderloins
- 500kg lamb shoulder
- 7,000 pulled pork burgers
- 300kg mixed mushrooms
- 6,500 rolled & poached chicken breast
- Over 60 pallets of food delivered to the track with a further 10 pallets of fresh produce delivered for the week
- Nearly 26,000 bottles of Champagne & Sparkling wine served across the week
- Up to 6,500 platters required in one day
- Over 70 pallets of equipment will be delivered to site
Grand Prix 2016 – nearly 12,000 guests served over 4 days.
- 9 x Kitchens & FOH facilities have a timeline of 2 weeks to fully set
- We have 4 days to pack down the entire site!!
- Runners average 20km of walking each day in pit exit
- Nearly 26,000 bottles of beer consumed in 4 days
Peter: It never ceases to amaze me what really goes into these major events from a catering perspective. Who are some of your most admired Melburnians?
These can be divided into categories. Let’s start with hospitality. When I started back in the 90’s there was a man called Donlevy Fitzpatrick who ran the Dogs Bar and The George in St Kilda. Also, the late Michael Milburn who started Epicure and brought a new dimension to event related catering. My business partner, Tony Schiavello, who employs over a thousand people. One of his quotes is “anything is possible” and I have also tried to take that approach with the way I do business. Then there is Jeff Kennett and Robert Doyle, simply because of what they have done and continue to do for our city. They both have that get up and get on with it approach that has helped Melbourne become the city it is today.
Peter: What else do you feel our industry needs to improve?
What I’d like to have is a serious decision about changes to our current IR laws and in particular penalty rates. Like any hospitality business, we would employ more people if there was a sound business case to do so. I believe the current laws don’t accurately represent the ever changing 24/7 world which all of us operate in today. We really have to be more flexible in our approach, rather than just relying on a system that is a little outdated. We need to be fair to both employees and employers but we have to be able to deliver a service that competes on a world scale.
Peter: I know this is a ‘hot political issue’ as I hear the same thoughts from many operators in our industry. Finally, where is your favourite place to get a coffee?
There is a café in Brighton called Super Random that I drive by each morning on my way to work. They know what I like so it’s all ready to go when I’m rolling up.
Peter: I have the same relationship at Grigons & Orr next to the office. I don’t even have to ask anymore as it’s there when I first arrive at the office. Hatem, thank you for your time and insights today.