In the latest of our series of customer business profiles, Vectron writer Tom Forrester-Paton looks at The Lakeside Mill, a serenely modern restaurant in the rapidly-growing outer Melbourne suburb of Pakenham. With a demographic steadily increasing in affluence as its development proceeds, Pakenham is a promising site for a sophisticated venue offering uncompromising culinary excellence. Access to the produce of the surrounding regions is a major plus, as well.

I caught up with Casey Brent, whose creation the Lakeside Mill is.

TFP – The Mill is up and running, and getting great reviews, so you’ve obviously found a winning formula. Where did you get your insights into the business of running a successful restaurant?

CB – I’ve worked in food since I was 14, starting in fast food around Sydney, where I grew up. At 17, I moved to Brisbane and started bar tending. So before I was out of my teens I had amassed quite a broad front-of-house experience. And I guess because I was genuinely interested in hospitality, I was taking any opportunity that presented itself to pick up on what was happening in the back-of-house, too.

I was 19 when I got my first proper management job. I was part of a team that basically went around getting venues out of trouble. Lots of investors fall a bit in love with the idea of running a city foodie pub, only to discover too late that there’s a lot more to it than they bargained for. We’d take on a turnkey project, teach them the dark art of menu design, and stock control, and all the rest of it that you really have to master to succeed in that space.

Lakeside Mill Casey and Jake

TFP – more invaluable exposure to different demographics, different branding styles?

CB – Exactly. You get to see that however different these hospitality businesses may be, they all share some core principles that you really must get right. Then it’s a matter of adapting these principles to the particular venue you’re running.

TFP – So how did the idea for the Mill come about?

CB – actually, that particular story starts with me breaking a leg.

TFP – Well that’s what they tell you to do in the theatre when you’re making an important entrance – but you took it literally?

CB – I guess so! I’d got to the stage in Brisbane where I was managing a big restaurant, and also realising that Brisbane wasn’t where I wanted to spend the rest of my working life. Then I broke my leg, meaning that until it mended fully I could no longer do the operational elements of running a venue.

TFP – So circumstances forced you to commit yourself fully to the management side of things?

CB – Yeah, and I moved to Melbourne, the capital of Australian food. I worked for Stokehouse, which gave me an inside look at the gold standard of contemporary Melbourne. And I started making friends and networking around the Melbourne hospitality scene. That’s how I met Jake Kellie, the guy I eventually persuaded to become the Mill’s chef.

TFP – So how did the Lakeside Mill come about?

CB – I was approached by an investor who was interested in the site, which is part of a Keystone development. He’d heard of the projects I’d managed, and thought we might share enough of our personal visions for a partnership to succeed. I thought he was right, and we secured the site. But that’s about all! We started with no more than a shell.

TFP – So who did you use to design it?

CB – Me!

Unfortunately we didn’t engage an architect, interior designer or the like, so for the most part I created the look and feel of the venue. I spent a good year and half planning, designing and constructing the venue. Both my girlfriend and I spent countless hours researching ideas and planning with a combination of looks until we found one we were happy with. Which you see today.

I’d had some really valuable experience of fit-out back in the Brisbane days, so I wasn’t a complete novice, but still it was a prodigious job of work

TFP – Well, judging from what I’ve seen online you could show some of the pros the way home!

CB – Thanks, but yeah, I really had some definite ideas about what I wanted. We did bring in Creative Order to add the branding cues and elements, and I’m absolutely delighted with the result.

TFP – you should be. Tell us a bit about Jake.

CB – Jake used to buy coffee from me when I was working in a café in South Yarra a couple of years ago. He was cooking at a restaurant just up the road, and as we got to know each other I could see that his vision as a chef matched mine as a restaurateur. Ive never quite seen someone so young and so passionate exhibit that much knowledge and cook so well. He truly rivals some of the greats!

TFP – And have you used Bepoz from the start?

CB – Yes. Taking as long as it did to build and fit out the Mill, I had plenty of time to research the point-of-sale options. I came to the conclusion – and I haven’t been disappointed – that Bepoz was in a league of its own.

TFP – That’s a big claim?

CB – Well, the standout thing for me has been the fact that their system is “live” – it operates in real-time. So when we make a change to any aspect of the business, it updates immediately, not when you next have the opportunity to reboot the system. Even better, it has a really good alert system that tells you in real time when a No Sale is registered, or when a supplier invoices us for more than the price at which the order was made. None of the other systems offered us that degree of control. I also love the Bepoz service – in a fast-moving business, solving problems quickly is vital.

TFP – How important has Social Media Marketing been to The Mill, and what are the important channels.

CB – Very important. It’s interesting; in the city, Instagram is probably the more powerful channel. Out here in Pakenham, the demographic favours Facebook. While building the Lakeside Mill I spent a huge amount of time interacting with local people on FB. It’s not as simple as asking people what they want –in a sense, your job is to give people something they didn’t know they wanted! So you’re trying to find out what makes them tick, and use this information to reveal to them a venue that fits them and their lifestyle like a glove.

TFP – Casey, thanks for sharing your experience with us.

CB-Great, thanks a lot Tom