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Round Table: The Black Pearl

In our March/April Issue, Stef Collins caught up with the award-winning team at The Black Pearl in Fitzroy. Here is an excerpt from that feature… 

The team behind The Black Pearl has more than a few awards under its belt – including consecutive ALIAs for Best Bar Team in Australia, as voted by their industry peers. So we asked them what they thought was the reason why they’re such a force to be reckoned with.

HOW’S DOES IT FEEL TO KEEP WINNING?

Chris Hysted-Adams: It feels incredible, in all honesty, we’re wrapped that people still love what we do. This is our 15th birthday coming up and I’m coming to 10 years, so just with that sort of longevity, on the one hand still being relevant is great and on the other the fact that people are still enjoying what we do after all this time is a lovely pat on the back.

WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE CURRENT AND PREVIOUS TEAMS THAT MAKES THE VENUE SO STRONG AND EFFECTIVE?

CH: It all stems from Tash and her family. Over the last 15 years they’ve set it up and anyone who is introduced into the bar, they’re effectively introduced right into the family as well. That attracts a certain type of person, it attracts like-minded people as the years have gone on. So when I was in there drinking in 2006, it was that kind of welcoming atmosphere that stems from Tash and then flows through the rest of the team that has attracted more like-minded people like Will, Cristiano, all the guys who have worked there over the years.

Nathan Beasley: The way that Black Pearl is put together, it’s all about personality, and family values. So I think that was instilled from the very beginning, because Tash and her mother and her father and her sister, set up the venue and ran at it as a family venue.

Will Sleeman: Tash has this keen nose for finding the right people for the position. You don’t really recognise it until you spend 60 hours a week with someone, but she somehow already knows that you’re going to get along before you do.

WHAT SORT OF CORE VALUES ARE PUT IN PLACE FOR THE STAFF?

CH: First and foremost, it’s a really lovely sense of ownership of the bar that Tash gives to everyone. Everyone is valued for their time and their influence over the space and that’s really important – it’s half the challenge in any job, feeling appreciated. You can’t say there is anyone here that feels underappreciated. It all stems from the family atmosphere. When you have a small team, anyone who isn’t pulling their weight – that really stands out. It hasn’t always been plain sailing. There were a few bartenders that have come and gone probably quicker than they would have liked, but yeah it puts a spotlight on everyone to make sure that they’re doing the right thing and as in any good family, you get pulled up if you’re doing anything wrong and it’s all sorted out.

NB: There this an idea, it’s like being part of a sports team – looking after one another, being respectful of one another, helping each other grow and covering for each other in times of need. The number one priority is of course, having a care for our guests and a love of hospitality. Anybody who has attitude problems – we just don’t tolerate it. Basically we try to make Black Pearl like going to your best friend’s house and having a drink there.

WS: You see it everywhere in the venue – her mum still makes the sausage rolls, they just treat everyone like they’re family, and there is an unconditional love there.

HOW DO YOU FIND STAFF?

CH: Some are recommendations, but more often than not, it is people that have been drinking at the bar. Tash has this great theory, where she says that she’ll serve them a few Old Fashioneds then they really start talking. It’s not like that’s the set rule to hiring people, but you know. I used to work in a winery and I’d come in here for knock-offs, and we struck up a bit of a rapport with Cristiano and the team that was here at the time, because they were super passionate about spirits and I was super passionate about wine. You could see that the core values that we shared were the same. Most of the team we have now would come in here for knock-offs – Will Sleeman, Matt Stirling. It gets to a point where you build a really good rapport. One of the big things for us is that we can teach people how to make drinks our way – that’s easy. You can’t teach personality or the core family values that we have here at the bar. You have to make sure they have that before they come in the door.

NB: When Tash’s family took a step back it was up to the bartenders to find people of a similar ilk to continue that on. So we only ever hire people that we know, people that are friends of ours or have a rapport with us. Personality and a sense of family are the best features we’re looking for. Then from there – anyone can learn how to make cocktails and drinks. You can’t teach personality. That’s where our success comes from.

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