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Hospitality trailblazer on quest to revitalise Perth’s social scene

17/06/2022. By Carmelle Wilkinson. 10 min read.

Entrepreneur Ross Drennan quit his job as a property valuer in 2015 and is now taking over the events and hospitality scene in Perth. Photo: PerthNow

From an aspiring young accountant to successful property valuer, Ross Drennan (B.Com Property and Accounting, 2007) can confidently add events and hospitality trailblazer to his growing list of rising achievements.

Quitting his day job as a commercial property valuer in 2015, the Curtin Graduate and entrepreneur is on a quest to bring a unique vibe and vibrancy to Perth’s dining and entertaining scene.

Co-founding the national festival and events company Nokturnl with his best mate and business partner Drew Flanagan in 2010, the dynamic duo are also the brains behind masterly crafted venues The Old Synagogue in Fremantle, and The Beaufort in Highgate.

Revitalising the Perth social scene, one bespoke bar at a time has become their trademark, with the 35-year-olds moving their attention to exciting projects in the CBD and South Perth later this year.

From batting buddies to business buddies, Ross and Drew are the dynamic duo behind The Old Synagogue and The Beaufort. Photo: PerthNow

Meeting at a local cricket club when they were 14, good teamwork seems to have been ingrained in them from a young age.

“The first thing we did when we left school was buy a ute together and start a delivery business, dropping off supplies for Drew’s Dad’s timber floor company,’’ Ross said.

“Like many friends we often spoke about starting our own business and after years of travelling and planning we launched Nokturnl in our early 20s.

“At first it was just something we’d enjoy doing around our jobs at the time. But before long the business really started to take off, and we both quit our jobs to focus on large scale events.”

Nokturl Events are behind some of the country’s biggest outdoor events, including Ocktoberfest in the Gardens.

Ross said while there was always a small element of fear stepping out of your comfort zone, he was confident in their business and enjoyed working alongside his childhood friend.

Originally from South Africa, Ross and his family moved to Perth when he was 13.

With his Dad a musician and his Mum a budding fashion designer, it’s safe to assume he inherited their flair for creativity.

However, it wasn’t until he completed his Property and Accounting degree at Curtin University that his career took a creative turn.

“I actually started my first year of accounting while completing year 12,’’ he said.

“At that time there was a program where you could attend night classes and towards the end of my degree I received work experience at a large accounting firm over the school holidays which was pretty good.

“Although I followed through and completed my degree, I quickly realised accounting wasn’t for me and I pivoted into property.”

Ross began his property career in 2006, resigning from his role as an Associate Director of national valuations and advisory firm m3property in 2015.

Following the success of managing a number of national events, such as the highly popular Ocktoberfest in the Gardens, Ross and Drew decided to expand their business repertoire to include bricks and mortar.

Tonic and Ginger at The Old Synagogue serves up tasty south-east Asian fusion dishes.

In 2018, they turned an otherwise forgotten heritage listed building on Fremantle’s cappuccino strip, into a pumping hospitality venue with a Asian fusion restaurant, hip beer and wine garden, rooftop terrace and intimate cocktail bar.

The Old Synagogue Fremantle

The Old Synagogue is located on Fremantle’s popular café strip.The Old Synagogue is located on Fremantle’s popular café strip.

In 2020 their hard work and perseverance paid off with The Old Synagogue taking out the gong for Best New Venue and Best Venue at the Australian Hotels Association Awards.

Originally built in 1902, the building was WA’s first synagogue – known back then as the Fremantle Synagogue.

The Arbor at The Old Synagogue is the perfect place to gather your crew and eat, drink and enjoy the Fremantle sunshine.

“When the property came up for sale, we immediately saw its potential. Coming from an events background I love creating unique spaces to entertain, and I knew we could do something really special with this site,’’ Ross said.

“Unfortunately, three months after opening The Old Synagogue, the global pandemic hit, and we had to close our doors for several months.

“While COVID-19 has thrown a few challenges in the mix, we’ve been extremely fortunate here in WA.”

The impressive interior space at Tonic and Ginger.

While a recent wave of COVID-19 wiped out 20 employees in one day, Ross said they’d learnt to adapt to the current environment – with everyone pitching in where they can.

Even if that means getting behind the bar and pouring the drinks himself.

“Drew and I are more involved in the operations side of the business, but if we are needed then we will of course step in. I don’t mind getting my hands dirty. Just don’t ask me to help out in the kitchen. That would end badly,’’ he joked.

In March this year, Ross and Drew added another hospitality hero to their list – The Beaufort.

The Beaufort in Highgate is bringing visitors and vibrancy back to a quiet end of town.

Situated in the former Empire Warehouse on Beaufort Street, Highgate, the multi-storey venue takes inspiration from the building’s 1950s vibes, coupling that with a bold modern architectural fit out.

“As two young pub owners we like to test what’s out there and see what works. For me, the focus has always been on creating multigenerational spaces that can be enjoyed by all ages,” Ross said.

“When people walk into our venues, I want them to be impressed. I’ve been to some pretty incredible bars overseas and wanted to replicate that wow factor here in Perth.”

Creating beautiful dining spaces has become Ross and Drew’s trademark.

The courtyard area at The Beaufort has ‘jungle vibes’ with lush green spaces.

With no signs of slowing down, the pair are currently in talks with the State Government to redesign and spruce up Yagan Square.

“It’s well known that Yagan Square hasn’t worked. While it’s situated on prime real estate with amazing accessibility from the train station and CBD, it struggles to draw people in,’’ he said.

Perth’s Yagan Square had great promise but many believe it hasn’t quite lived up to the hype.

With support from the State Government, Ross and Drew plan to reinvigorate the space and bring it to life with multiple dining and pub offerings.

Another project gaining momentum are their plans to convert a heritage listed police station in their home suburb of South Perth into an underground restaurant and bar.

Construction on both projects is expected to start this year in anticipation for a grand opening towards the end of 2023.

Ross said the next 12 months would be their busiest yet, but he was up for the challenge.

“Thankfully Drew and I get along well. I know they say not to go into business with friends or family, but we’re very fortunate that we both word hard and there is a massive level of trust,” he said.

From a handful of employees running an events business, Ross and Drew now have more than 300 staff across their businesses.

Mr Chapple, The Old Synagogue

“My advice for anyone wanting to work for themselves is don’t be scared to keep looking for great business opportunities,’’ Ross said.

“And don’t think because your degree says one thing that your degree won’t help you or lead you into doing something completely different.”

Ross said his double degree opened career opportunities that he never dreamed of, which ultimately proved the perfect foundation for his current aspirations.

“While my accounting experience is assisting with handling the book side of the business, my property valuing knowledge has been quite handy when scouting our next venue,’’ Ross said.

“University if anything teaches us how to think and if you have aspirations to be an entrepreneur, just go for it.”

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