New owner for flagship Hog’s Breath Café at Airlie Beach

By Nick Hall | 14 Aug 2019 View comments

Restaurant franchise Hog’s Australia has secured a new franchisee for its iconic Hog’s Breath Café at Airlie Beach. The latest announcement comes as the brand rolls out a series of new initiatives to increase franchisee support, following a torrid year that has seen Hog’s plagued by media scrutiny.

Opening in 1989, Hog’s Breath Café at Airlie Beach is the network’s oldest location and has most recently operated under corporate direction. However, Ross Worth, Hog’s Australia CEO confirmed that a new franchisee was poised to take control of the flagship Whitsunday’s location.

“Our flagship Airlie Beach restaurant has been corporately owned for the last few years, so we’re thrilled to say that we’re in the final disclosure stage and contract phase,” Worth told Inside Franchise Business.

“Once they have completed and passed our comprehensive corporate training program, they’ll be ready to take the baton and serve up our famous steaks to the people of Airlie.”

Hog’s Breath Café at Airlie Beach

The Hog’s Breath Café at Airlie Beach has been a staple of the iconic restaurant chain’s network since the very beginning.

Worth revealed that while there had been applications from other interested parties, none had fit the bill until now.

“First and foremost, we want someone who will run a successful business, but who also fits in with the Hog’s culture and standards of service and hospitality,” Worth said.

“Airlie Beach has also been the spiritual home of Hog’s for 30 years so this restaurant is incredibly close to our hearts and we want it to be running successfully in another 30 years. We have a number of criteria that a prospective new franchisee must meet before they are signed off and can join our Hog’s family. We do our best to make sure that all restaurants have solid franchisees and operators.”

Response to criticism

The Hog’s Australia CEO’s words come at a particularly poignant time. For months, the heritage franchise has copped a barrage of negative media attention after it was revealed that 10 locations had closed this year alone.

In July, Worth denied that the situation was dire, instead suggesting that economic and consumer demands had altered the dining landscape.

Speaking with Inside Franchise Business on Monday, Worth reaffirmed his stance, stating that the issues were not exclusive to Hog’s alone.

“I’m not sure that there has been a loss of confidence in Hog’s but rather a massive shift in consumer habits over the past couple of years with dine-in restaurants taking a hit across the board,” he said.

“The dine-in restaurant sector has experienced 10 consecutive quarters of decline. Of course, this is sadly going to impact on some of our restaurants, as it has impacted on many across the country, including many high-profile shock closures and headlines.”

Improving franchisee conditions

Despite the sector experiencing a downfall, Worth said Hog’s Australia had been working on rolling out a number of new initiatives set to limit the impact on franchisees, starting first with Hog’s Breath Café at Airlie Beach.

“We want all of our franchisees to succeed and work very hard to provide them with the resources to do so,” he said.

“We have partnered with Energy Alliance to reduce electricity costs in over 10 restaurants saving them thousands of dollars and we work with individual landlords in negotiating rent reductions and assisting with renovations whenever possible.”

Additionally, the brand is also introducing a new menu, in direct response to previous franchisee criticisms.

The menu update sees a range of new burgers, cocktails and wines added to the mix, with the two-sides offer reinstated.

Worth said while the revamp had been an extensive project, it was critical that Hog’s addressed both franchisee and customer concerns.

“A new menu means a lot of work for the whole business team, from our executive chef, the marketing department to the training and operations chefs, right through to our franchisees and their restaurant wait staff who need to be trained on all of the new menu items and changes,” he said.

“Our franchisees and representative franchise bodies are involved in any major changes or decisions made as a brand, such as menu changes, offers and promotions. We’ll continue to respond to customer feedback and diversify our offering as needed.”

Moving forward

With the Hog’s Breath Café at Airlie Beach franchise sale wrapping up, Worth said the focus was firmly on continuing to bolster franchisee support.

“Our focus is on supporting our franchisees, and delivering for our customers,” he said.

“We’ll continue to drive our home delivery offering, and roll out order-at-table tablets across the group, as well as continue on with the automation and diversification of our loyalty program and further menu development.”