It’s been quite a year since Moon Dog World Preston opened, but despite the COVID-19 and the ongoing Melbourne lockdowns, Moon Dog Craft Brewery has not been quiet behind the scenes.
With a capacity of 725, the venue, consisting of four warehouses in the Melbourne suburb of Preston, opened in early October 2019. The opening was hotly-anticipated, no wonder considering there’s nothing comparable in Australia. Moon Dog World has 72 beer taps, a hidden tiki bar, a lagoon and an in-house waterfall.
“I just don’t think you can start with more of a highlight than the opening, besides the storm of customers and stuff-ups that happen which happen with most new venue openings!” Moon Dog brand marketing manager Brook Hornung told Brews News.
“The first couple of weeks were inundated with customers. We didn’t know what hit us.
“It was unbelievable to see peoples’ reactions coming through the door, that sense of wow as they would walk in.
“And those first few weeks, if not months, we worked out we had 5,000 people through the door each week which was insane, that was an absolute highlight.”
When it launched, Moon Dog’s “family-friendly behemoth that could have sprung from the imagination of Willy Wonka” was described as “a quirky yet charming brewery/oasis” and a “boozy theme park” that brings “a whole new meaning to the words “go big, or go home”.
The bottom line was, Moon Dog doesn’t do things by halves.
But the fun wasn’t to last as long as they may have liked.
“We were lucky we got a reasonable run of it, 4-5 months of trading full throttle and that was fantastic. Then obviously we went into the absolute unknown of COVID,” Hornung said.
“It couldn’t have been worse timing for us as having invested a lot in the business, venue and staff,” admitted Hornung.
“Being in a rapid growth trajectory, you’re always taking a risk and when you have that [certainty] pulled out from under you you’re left exposed.”
Like many brewers though, Moon Dog adapted to the changed circumstances.
“The team innovated and came up with new online offerings, like the Bingo at Abbotsford moved online and I think that was a weekly lifesaver for people who had nothing to do, it was something they looked forward to.
“We also put on our TV show, “How you brewin’?’ with Karl and Macca, they were tasting the beers and interacting with people online. It was something we would never have thought of doing before.
“I’m not sure it’s something people will want to do when they can go to the pub but it was fantastic to see, and there are lots of breweries doing things like it.”
This quick adaptation was pivotal in bringing revenue through the door.
“A highlight was how the team transitioned very quickly into online offerings and delivery, as well as bottle shops. That’s not unique to us obviously but it was fantastic to see that.
“We’ve been able to keep full-time staff on and have people transition into roles they might not have been doing, delivering or helping in the brewery or sales, essentially doing what we have to do to get by day to day and keep our eyes open for when things go back to normality.”
When they first opened Moon Dog World, the team thought there might be a bit of novelty factor with customers coming from far and wide, but Hornung said they were pleasantly surprised by the local support they had received too.
“We thought it would be a destination. Statistics from online indicated people were coming from all over to visit. But we dug down a bit deeper and in fact, 80 per cent were coming from two suburbs.
“We established a strong local presence, and we were lucky to have that run at it to build that up a little. That certainly has helped from a bottle shop and food delivery perspective.”
Changing it up
Moon Dog World Preston for the moment is closed along with venues across Melbourne, and having to adapt the venues to the constantly changing rules and regulations proved a challenge, but not an insurmountable one.
“It was happening so quickly everyone everywhere was chasing their tail,” Hornung said.
“When we could reopen for those couple of months it meant we could have in Abbotsford the two separate rooms, one was a function space and that became a bar and we could have 40 people across those spaces, which was quite simple, but in Preston, we had a few different spaces and the beer garden was not helpful at that stage being in the middle of winter.”
Looking to reopening, the restrictions placed on venues will clearly not be completely lifted and venues will again have to change up their processes.
“There’s uncertainty around reopening this time around and we’re still waiting on final details. Looking at regional Victoria it seems there will be a smaller number of patrons restricted for indoor dining which could be a negative given Preston is so large.
“It’s hard to make rules that fit everyone but the inside of Moon Dog World is nothing like your local pub in terms of their low ceilings and small rooms.
“But honestly just the idea of reopening is so exciting we would work it out whatever the rules are.
“We’re also working out how we can transition and utilise more outdoor areas because I think the focus will be outdoors for the foreseeable future. We will do everything we can in the safest way we can.”
While Moon Dog looks forward to reopening its venues, there’s also the long term future to consider.
“I think some things will essentially have changed forever. Near the end of the last lockdown we implemented Me&U, for example, which is an order at your table beacon,” Hornung explained.
“Things like that will be here to stay and we still want to have that experience for the punters where they get to speak to someone and have that conversation but that might only happen once or twice and they are happy to order a few jugs at the table
“Stuff like that is here for good, as well as the online side. We saw great growth in the online store and I was personally a bit sceptical of it, I thought ‘why wouldn’t you go to bottle shop?’ but that’s been really strong for us especially getting our speciality limited release product to people who might not live near or have great ranges in their local.
“So that’s been really positive, it’s hard to know though. I look around at friends on Instagram in other states and sometimes it looks like nothing ever happened, so I hope it goes back to be able to go to live music venues to open, nightclubs to open, things that have been hit hard by COVID restrictions. But I think for us it will start as table service and at some stage, we hope it will move a bit closer to normal.
“We’re very lucky, we have a brewery at the back of our venue so we’re still producing and wholesaling lots of beer. We’re lucky to have pubs reopen interstate sooner than we have which has kept us going. I feel terrible for other hospitality venues that don’t have that arm of the business we’ve certainly been lucky with that
“At the end of the day, we’re still about offering a great experience, brewing great new beers, and having a good feed in whatever form that takes.”