Suburban Stafford venue Rusty Burrow opts for slow burn success

Posted on 03 march 2017

If there's one thing that Will Waugh knows best, it's how to win over a crowd.

A former nightclub promoter and events coordinator, Will made a career out of enticing the people of Brisbane into a venue - so when it came down to doing that for a business of his own, he knew exactly what to do.

The Rusty Burrow is Will's latest project: a kitschy restaurant and bar hidden away in the inner-city suburb of Stafford Heights in Brisbane.

Will Waugh
Will Waugh - Owner of The Rusty Burrow

There are rabbit-themed knick-knacks scattered around the interior; its quirky theme based on the hilly area in which it's based. It might be a fun aesthetic now, but Will says that it was 'a bit boring' when he first got his hands on it.

"We got approached by the landlords who owned the business where The Rusty Burrow currently is...we bought it off them and took it over," says Will.

"It was this little suburban cafe, and we turned it into a restaurant and bar, opened it up at night, changed the menu, theme, style, everything."

But this was no overnight shift: sensing a changing crowd in Stafford, Will realised he would need to take it slowly in order to preserve the existing business's loyal breakfast crowd, whilst also inviting a younger demographic for their lunch and dinner menus.

"We looked at the lunch and dinner trade as almost a separate business from the breakfast and coffee trade," says Will. "And I think that's why we were successfully able to create something that transitions from a busy successful cafe during the day, to a lively bar trade at night."

Will introduced live music, and a younger, funkier menu that included the hugely popular American food trend, including burgers, wings, and pulled pork. Using different marketing campaigns targeting the different audiences, Will slowly began to grow the Rusty Burrow customer base.

waffle burger
Will introduced a younger, funkier menu that included the hugely popular American food trend!

"We didn't want to be associated with being 'just another American burger bar'," says Will. "So that was our point of difference - in our local area there were already a million cafes! So we needed to move past that trend, too."

The result has been a multi-purpose venue that serves everything from fresh juices and cakes, to Wolff boutique coffee, to international wines, to sit-down dinners. Will calls it a fusion of modern Australian meets comfort soul food, with American style BBQ. "It sounds weird, but it just kind of works!" he laughs.

It took almost two years for Will to get The Rusty Burrow to where it is today. He ended up selling his former venue, a smaller cafe called Coffee Trade, in order to focus on his larger project. It was a risk that ended up paying off, with Will saying that the profits are continuing to double, even triple, month to month.

But the process wasn't easy - it meant a complete refurbishment of the venue in everything from the seating to the kitchen equipment. Having rented a small coffee machine for his previous business, Will approached Silver Chef again to set up the Rusty Burrow.

To date, he has rented $65,000 worth of equipment from Silver Chef, including furniture (chairs, ottomans, dining tables, bar stools, bar tables, and rectangle tables), accessories (cutlery, plates, glassware, cake displays), and of course, kitchen equipment (power mixers, fridges, bain maries, toasters, and more).

Will says that the biggest drawcard of working with Silver Chef was saving the initial cash outlay that kind of equipment and furniture costs. Like many small business owners, he is frank about his plans with the Rusty Burrow - build it up, and sell. And not having that equipment debt is an asset during sale time.

Coffee Machine
Having rented a small coffee machine for his previous business, Will approached Silver Chef again to set up the Rusty Burrow.

Like many other new business owners, Will opted to source his equipment through the Silver Chef Certified Used program.

Silver Chef Certified Used Equipment offers professional grade hospitality equipment - often less than 18 months old – at a reduced price compared to new. But don't think it's faulty just because it's secondhand. Each item has undergone a rigorous six stage refurbishment process and comes with warranty.

For Will, who was always thinking of the end game, this was a great way to save money in the setup process.

"Before even opening, you need to have an exit strategy," says Will. "And you need to have some sort of long term goal - which is usually to build up a business, and sell it."

"The biggest mistake people make in the beginning is outlaying $5,000 to $50,000 on equipment. So when you go to sell your business, that comes off the sale price - a significant chunk."

Will & Dan
For Will, Silver Chef was a great way to save money in the setup process.

Will has two pieces of advice for small business owners looking to replicate the runaway success of the kooky but ever-popular Rusty Burrow. Firstly, take it slowly: don't rush through big branding changes or additions overnight, as you'll scare off the existing regulars.

And secondly, regardless of how much you love your venue, don't become too attached!

"You can't become emotional about your business," says Will. "If you do, you're in it for the wrong reasons and it won't work out. There needs to be a strong strategy, and clear direction from the beginning."

Will is great proof that a steady and considered approach to starting a small business can often be more successful than the rushed and ill-planned passion projects so many hospitality owners fall into.

Slow and steady wins the race, said the tortoise to the hare!

The Rusty Burrow

(07) 3630 5225

69 Wilgarning Street

Stafford Heights  QLD  4053

The Rusty Burrow


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