Fast Five: Greg Kahan discusses the struggles of Melbourne's CBD hospitality businessess

CEO of The Kahan Group and owner of The George on Collins, Greg Kahan shares his story about how the CBD venue has kept afloat during the hardest of times for CBD businesses.

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Welcome to another edition of Fast Five - our fortnightly series where we ask Victoria’s most influential and exceptional business leaders five simple questions to get a glimpse behind-the-scenes of Australia’s most exciting operations. 

Now CEO of The Kahan Group, Greg Kahan has owned and operated some of Melbourne's most iconic hospitality venues for the better part of three decades - including popular Melbourne CBD bar The Loft, and most recently, The George on Collins.  

Having managed to maintain operations throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns, Greg shares his insights into how the upmarket venue has managed to not only keep its doors open, but what it’s going to take for CBD businesses to keep them open into the future.  

#1: How has The George on Collins adapted during the COVID-19 pandemic? 

Adaption has been a really interesting exercise. The George on Collins is a unique hospitality experience: we have good food, functions, bar, and a late-night vibe - and we lost it all for almost 9 months. 

When we went into lockdown, we decided to concentrate on our food. We set up a take home ‘heat and eat’ concept where we delivered the food to customers with a recipe card and how to serve it, along with house-made cocktails. The response was terrific and really took our food to another level. 

When we reopened, albeit with restrictions, our food bookings increased, and it has maintained the whole way through. It's still very tough with restrictions as our venue holds 640 at capacity and we currently are allowed to host 180 patrons.  

From a COVIDSafe point of view, we are very serious about checking in as we understand the importance of the governments tracing system. We are constantly updating our COVIDSafe plan as it evolves with restrictions. 

We have found so far that about 98 per cent of patrons are really accommodating and understanding. 

#2: What do CBD businesses need right now? 

No question whatsoever: office workers to come back to work in the city. We were so happy to see that office workers no longer needed to wear masks at work – it should really help get people back into Melbourne’s CBD. 

From a hospitality point of view - to rid the fear from people coming into the city and having faith in the contract tracing system will make an enormous difference. 

Along with car parking fees needing to be reduced, live entertainment and standing cocktail functions would also help drive people back into the CBD and create the vibe again that Melbourne is known for.  

#3: What are you most proud of over the past year? 

As the owner, I am most proud of how I have taken care of my staff during lockdown and tried to provide a positive attitude towards their future with us. 

We had a few workers on 457 visas who were not eligible for JobKeeper. They had no family here and no income, so keeping them employed and staying positive was paramount.  

#4: What does the next year look like for The George? 

Our phones are ringing off the hook, so I think if everyone gets vaccinated, and we follow the rules and don’t get shut down again, we could have a decent year - albeit we have a lot of ground to make up. 

We have four different function rooms, so we are very much looking forward to stand-up cocktail functions once again and the return of business events coming into the Spring and Christmas time. 

#5: What do you think will be The George's biggest challenge in the long-term? 

Our biggest challenge is the threat of more lockdowns. We have about 60 staff which we need to make sure we can accommodate with a regular and secure job. This is probably my biggest concern, as hospitality is all about service and we rely on our staff to ensure this. 

All we can do is try and stay ahead of COVID-19 and keep thinking of strategies and coming up with innovative ideas to keep staff employed. 

It is definitely getting tougher with each lockdown and this last one really hurt, but we are a resilient bunch, and we just seem to learn how to pivot and provide our customers with an enjoyable experience within the COVIDSafe guidelines at the time. 

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