Fast, Fun or Fancy


They say ‘keep family and work separate’ but the Dawson and Doolan families have done quite the opposite – and it works, brilliantly! The husband and wife teams Amara and Tom Doolan, and Matt and Angela Dawson own and operate three venues located all together along Melbourne’s popular St Kilda foreshore.

After acquiring the space around thirteen years ago the team turned what were two completely separate businesses, into three of St Kilda’s most popular restaurants and bars, Republica, Encore
and Captain Baxter.

“When we first took over the space we traded the two existing venues as one. It might sound crazy but we knocked a hole in the middle so you could sort of treat them as one venue, as you could imagine it looked very disjointed,” said Matt Dawson owner and Executive chef.

“Getting it to what it is today has taken us some time. We shut in 2006 to renovate and we got it looking like it was one venue – then we renovated properly a year later to what it looks like today. We put a lot of time and effort into creating the right look and feel and trying to make it look more like three venues, because when we first took it over it looked very sparse and there was just concrete everywhere.”

The busy foursome each bring their specialised skill set to St Kilda Venues and together they have built up Melbourne’s bayside oasis that can host the most lavish events at Encore, delivers amazing shared Asian inspired food at Captain Baxter and the perfect relaxed hangout for patrons who want to chill out, listen to cool tunes and dine whilst taking in the seaside views at Republica.

Operating three businesses from one site has its advantages. Matt outlines that being able to pull both front of house and back of house staff from venue to venue as needed definitely helps. During the busy summer period St Kilda Venues employs about 220 staff in total (60 – back of house and 160 – front of house).

“In summer we get absolutely smashed. Republica will serve anywhere between 2000-3000 items of food. Upstairs at Captain Baxter is probably more around the 800- 1000 meals over the weekend, and we usually have a few events on at Encore hosting between 50 people to 300 people per event,” Matt says.

Matt’s experience has assisted with installing commercial kitchen equipment that supports the busy venues growing and changing needs. The fitout definitely making the most of the technology available which facilitates time management and freeing up valuable chef labor by selecting the correct equipment.

The current kitchen set up includes multiple RATIONAL SCC and VCC units, Frymaster built in filtration suites, a Tecnomac Blast Chiller, Garland 4 burners, Comenda conveyer belt dishwashers and soon to be home to a Mibrasa charcoal oven.

“The RATIONAL VCC is just brilliant, we’ve got the two 25 pots operating side by side – it dramatically speeds up the process. It means we have less chefs standing around waiting for things to boil or to drain.”

“We also have quite a few RATIONAL SCC units, they are very automatic. It’s great, we can pretty much walk in press a few buttons and everything starts working. We can get onto prepping and then come back and manage things quickly.”

“I have always worked with Frymaster deep fryers. We have seven of them throughout the kitchen here. They all have built in filtration to help with the cleaning. Chefs hate cleaning out the fryer, it’s a terrible job at the end of the day. The oil quality is better which results in better tasting food and saves on oil costs in the long run.” The Mibrasa charcoal oven will take pride of place in Captain Baxter.

“The aroma that comes from the oven is amazing. I think it will be more engaging for the chefs as well, it is going to be great for them to have something new to use, if you’ve been cooking for 10 or 20 years you end up doing the same thing time after time therefore I think this will bring a new element and the chefs will really get a lot out of it, said Matt.

St Kilda Venues has already expanded beyond the St Kilda beachside and last year opened the doors to Mr McCraken, a contemporary bar, restaurant and function venue in the newly built Hyatt Place in Essendon Fields. This is a hospitality family that will definitely continue to grow.

Watch this space!

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