12 February 2024

New operators announced for North Gong Surf Club's spectacular waterfront restaurant

| Keeli Royle
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North Wollongong Surf Club

The newly renovated North Wollongong Surf Club will soon be home to a new restaurant by The Boathouse Group. Photo: Keeli Royle.

After years of renovations and many disappointing delays, North Wollongong Surf Club’s spectacular new venue is finally complete with a new operator ready to take the reins and bring an amazing restaurant offering to the waterfront site under the guidance of a well known Illawarra chef.

The Boathouse Group, known for its scenic venues around Sydney and the Central Coast, has been selected to run the recently refurbished club after a long selection process to find the most suitable tenants.

The Boathouse Group Head of Commercial and Marketing Ben Collis said from first glance they knew it would be a good match.

“When this site became available and our team went and had a look at it, it immediately ticked the box in terms of an iconic destination in a beautiful waterside location with an amazing view – straight away it really fit within our portfolio of venues,” Ben said.

Selected to lead the charge was Mark LaBrooy who has extensive experience in the sector as a chef, restaurant owner, author and food ambassador.

“That was obviously a big priority for us was finding someone local who could run the venue and at the same time we were looking for a chef to start developing what the menu would look like and in Mark we found both of those things at the same time which is great,” Ben said.

“He is a very capable chef; he’s started the Three Blue Ducks; he’s run his own restaurants and has amazing experience and is very passionate about local produce.”

READ ALSO Gerringong Surf Life Saving Club says farewell to its 50-year-old clubhouse

And with the new venue set to create around 100 new jobs, Illawarra residents looking to pursue a career in hospitality will have opportunities to grow their skills or even eventually branch out.

“Whether you’re a chef, or passionate about drinks, cocktails, bartending, and front of house service and hosting, there’s going to be plenty of roles within the venue,” Ben said.

“It also links you to a wider group and the opportunities that will present to people who might want to eventually make a move to one of our other venues which might be Sydney or somewhere else down the line.”

A lot of work still needs to be done to determine what exactly the restaurant will look like and the operators are keeping details close to their chest. But it is likely to steer away from a cafe feel and focus on dining opportunities throughout the day and night.

“There’s a lot of great venues down and around the site that are doing great breakfast offerings, so we are more interested in something that is more that lunchtime and evening,” Ben said.

The restaurant signing on is a major milestone for North Wollongong Surf Life Saving Club (SLSC).

“It’s an absolute relief because it’s been such a long, drawn-out process with many complications and we’ve finally got to an end point,” North Wollongong SLSC President David Meredith said.

He said the backing of members was crucial for the club to be able to pursue a commercial avenue and create a Queensland-style surf club unlike anything currently in the area.

That support continued to be vital throughout the process as the club faced challenge after challenge.

“We’ve had to deal with COVID like everyone else in the community, and then we were in a container set up for two years out of Stuart Park … then what happened is when UCI [cycling championships] came along we had access to the downstairs patrolling area, and as everyone is well aware, that stayed a construction zone for another 18 months,” David said.

“In terms of the surf club surviving without being able to run functions or have a function centre we could use, we’ve done remarkably well to be able to maintain our loyal membership.”

READ ALSO Kiama Lions’ concert clean-up supports local surf club’s campaign to repair roof

The aim of the upgrades was not only to increase the opportunities for patrolling members but also attract more so that the extremely popular beach would remain supervised and safe.

And securing the most appropriate restaurant operators was one of the final pieces of the puzzle.

“There was a lot of interest in it, there were a lot of really good candidates who applied, and through a selection criteria these guys clearly came out on top,” David said.

But in addition to their expertise in hospitality, it was The Boathouse Group’s approach to working with and alongside the club for mutual benefit which was most attractive.

“One of the key things is that they really want to form a partnership with us, and that really helped get them over the line,” David said.

“The way we see this working, if they’re successful then we’ll be successful.”

And that partnership appears to already be in full swing.

“The relationship with the surf club has been magnificent,” Ben said.

“It’s been a real pleasure to work with them over the last couple of months on developing what this venue will look like and how it is going to assimilate with them and the club and be complementary.”

An opening date has not yet been set but anyone interested in employment opportunities at the new venue is encouraged to express their interest through The Boathouse Group website.

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