Sauce Brewing’s Cairns venue has faced some major challenges in its first 12 months.
Many businesses that opened during COVID faced an uphill battle and Sauce’s Cairns venue was no different, as founder Mike Clarke freely admits.
“Not gonna lie, it’s been tough, as it has been for most of the beer and hospitality industry, and pretty much everyone in Cairns,” Clarke told Brews News.
“We’ve had a warm welcome by the people of Far North Queensland (FNQ), and the bar and bottle shop has developed a small, but loyal local following.
“But we were relying on travel being open again by now, as without tourism, the town is struggling. This of course impacts patronage and so we’re not really where we want to be yet.”
The plans for a new brewpub were first announced in 2019 as a joint venture between Sauce and craft accelerator Mighty Craft.
Mighty Craft currently holds a 25 per cent share of Sauce Cairns with the rest being held by Clarke. For the 2021 financial year, the company also invested over $220,000 into the Cairns venue.
The provided funds and expertise from the incubator fund was key in setting up the new venue, according to Clarke.
“They took on a lot of the trade sales functions for New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Queensland. In this respect they’ve given us a leg up,” he explained.
Sauce’s Marrickville brewery, which first opened in 2017, currently acts as the production brewery for both of the company’s venues, with COVID dampening local production in Cairns.
“There is a 10hL brewery onsite but it’s as yet not in use – with COVID smashing our volumes it doesn’t make sense to run and staff two breweries when everything can be produced in one.
“When travel opens up and the people come back to Cairns, then it makes sense to brew more locally,” he said.
Over the course of the COVID pandemic, the media has reported on the downfall of tourism in Cairns and other FNQ regions, with the ABC describing the latest school holiday numbers as “worse than expected.”
While the region has avoided almost having no lockdowns since June last year, aside from one three-day lockdown in August, the lack of tourists creates an unsustainable cycle, according to Clarke.
“It affects us two-fold – first, less people visiting Cairns means less people visiting us; second, with tourism down the whole town struggles, meaning locals don’t have a lot of disposable income.
“We do have a good local following, but current numbers are not enough to sustain us long term.”
For a new business like Sauce Cairns, Government funds, or lack thereof, has also been an issue.
“We’ve had zero government support. Even last year, while most businesses were getting Jobkeeper, as a new business, we got nothing,” Clarke said.
After reflecting on the challenges Sauce Cairns faced over the past year, Clarke offered some advice to other brewers.
“Overestimate your budget, have a buffer because everything costs more than you think it will, and it could be a while before you’re cash flow positive.
“Be resilient, thick-skinned, cool-headed, able to think on the fly and deal with problems as they arise – because they will arise.”
While the future seems uncertain for Sauce Cairns, Clarke remained optimistic and laid out some future plans for the businesses.
“Honestly we just want to get through this year by the skin of our teeth. Hopefully the rebound we were expecting this year will come next year instead.
“I can’t wait to fire up the brewhouse and start making interesting small batch beers with local rainforest ingredients.
“It really sucks being locked out for the better part of 18 months too, so I wanna get back up there.”