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Exclusive: Hog’s Breath CEO says Lords Place renovation cost Orange franchise $350,000

October 3, 2023

By Peter Holmes

A letter from Steven Spurgin, the CEO of the Hog’s Breath chain of restaurants, has outlined a tale of Lords Place misery that he says has cost the diner $350,000.

The letter, sent to Orange Residents & Ratepayers Association, is being distributed among Orange councillors, and a copy has been obtained by The Orange News Examiner.

In the letter, Spurgin said: “We reopened this restaurant with enthusiasm, recruiting local staff, many on full-time and part-time contracts. We were expecting to be able to operate 7 days a week from 11am to 9pm as per the brand standard, and build the business up to its peak over the coming year.

“This street renovation project came as a complete surprise to us, our first awareness was when we were informed trees would be cut down the next day!”

Spurgin said this “inconvenienced our customers immediately and impacted our sales”.

He said Hog’s Breath “immediately engaged with the Council directly and through meetings, but through the process found the council to appear arrogant and almost impatient with having to talk with us about our concerns”.

A number of businesses have complained about the way they felt they were dealt with by council staff.

“We found the communication on activities to be poor and very short notice,” Spurgin said. “Meetings were held and attended at which we vociferously objected to the notice periods given and the lack of consultation.”

He said that as renovations on Lords Place progressed the “customer base declined, and this resulted in staff having to be let go or moved onto casual. This was detrimental to the brand in Orange as the local labour pool is sensitive and making a promise of full-time, and then letting them go, does not enhance the trust in employment offers”.

Spurgin said the drop in trade and staffing issues led it to shut two days a week, which meant it was in breach of its franchise conditions, and down two days of revenue.

He said a lack of certainty of dates for works and closures on the street meant it was difficult to share accurate information with customers, and that this “further compounded the [loss of] trust [with] the customer base.

“They chose to stay away from an area - they had no idea [if it] was accessible or not. That’s what consumers do because they have a choice!”

An internal renovation was booked to be done during one of the road closures, but Spurgin says this “caused angst with contractors as the anticipated date of street closure was moved twice. We closed the store for two weeks and then reopened to a closed street as the street renovations continued beyond the date”.

He added: “It was unfortunate that this was all done and extended into December 2022 and January 2023 - our busiest periods. There were further closures for the installation of outdoor dining precincts, again an unwanted benefit.”

Spurgin said that at a meeting with council staff “we were told the council could facilitate liquor licensing on the pavement, which we were dubious of, as this is not our experience when dealing with NSW LIquor Licensing Board”.

“We were told we should take it otherwise the council would offer it to other businesses, and we would have competitors serving food and drink in front of our restaurant,” Spurgin said.

“At this meeting we questioned the wisdom of outdoor seating in Orange with its inclement weather and were told the concept worked in Canberra and Melbourne, both metro areas not regional towns.”

Spurgin said “all in all, through this experience we have lost $350k. We are assessing our reopening as we have had some internal safety issues identified that require rectification works”.

“We are hugely disappointed in the way the council handled this situation from start to finish. The consultations were deemed to be compliance as opposed to actual engagement, and the whole concept seemed to be ego driven rather than practical.

“We believe the council expected us to wear the cost of their ineptness in planning, consultation and project management.”

Spurgin said it will take considerable time for customers to return to Lords Place.

“Hugely disappointing experience, which demonstrates the council’s lack of sympathy or appreciation that private sector businesses cannot manage without revenue and don’t have state and federal grants to prop up poor performance.”

He finished the letter: “Anyway, we will soldier on, make our plans and attempt to recover our council-induced $350k loss.”

The Orange News Examiner has sought comment from Orange City Council.


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