Bar on the house: Melbourne venue’s owners giving it away for free

It turns out in life, some things do come free – with the owners of a Melbourne bar currently on the hunt for the right person to give it away to. Hard Rubbish is 12km north of Melbourne’s CBD on the border of Preston and Reservoir, right on the 86 tram line. The small space, filled with locals on a Friday night, is fitted out with decor found mostly on the street.

Charlotte Tizzard runs the bar, which she owns with her brother James and sister-in-law Katie Smith. It’s currently valued at about $90,000 but she promises the offer to take over the business for free is no trick. There’s no debt and it will make a “modest” profit for its new owner.

“I’m not giving it away because it’s failing,” Tizzard says.

The three owners “didn’t feel right” about selling it to the highest bidder, she says. They wanted to be able to pick the right person.

“Giving it away not only gives us a great pool of people to choose from but would allow some younger people to get their foot in the door to owning their own business.”

Tizzard had a surprise baby during lockdown and wants more time to focus on her other hospitality business – Knochen Joint, a Hawaiian diner in Reservoir.

But finding the right candidate to take over has not come easily.

There’s been a lot of interest and some unusual approaches, including a woman from Denmark who wrote one line about wanting to move to Australia, another whose suggestion was simply to change the name to “Cool Bar” and several emails from people just asking if they can have it – without any details of how they will run it.

“I’m anticipating the serious people will have [their application] in closer to the closing date,” Tizzard says.

“We’re looking for people who have been to Hard Rubbish at least a few times and like it. Our preference is for people who are local.”

There are some rules. The new owners have to keep the four employees and pay them award rates with super.

There’s also a vetting process, which will include a presentation night in November where the strongest contenders will pitch to the community.

“Our plan is to have an information night where we get our regulars and locals down and the people who are shortlisted get to do a presentation,” Tizzard said. “We’re trying to make a nice version of Gladiator.”

The shortlisted candidates’ representation of their proposal will be put up in the bar for two weeks, with patrons given a sticker each time they buy a beer so they can vote for the one they like the most.

Tizzard admits the voting system “could easily get stacked” but says they want locals to have their say – with the three owners holding the ultimate veto power.

“We’ll try and take everyone’s opinions into account. We feel we’ve got a certain insight and requirements for the bar to continue.”

When the bar opened six years ago you could buy a house sparkling for $7 and enjoy it with a chilli pesto jaffle. Now, patrons can order burgers or nachos, there are six beer taps, an extensive cocktail menu and rising inflation, so the house bubbles will set you back $10.

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Tizzard has been transparent about the costs, giving candidates a rundown of expenses and the turnover, which is just under $22,000 a month on average.

She is asking candidates to outline how they might change the menu or the feel of the bar. They can submit their applications in any form, be it written words, a song, a cartoon, or some interpretive dance – but mostly, they need to be prepared to work hard and love the community.

“When we opened this place we hoped people would come and it has gone beyond our expectations. It’s been really amazing experience,” Tizzard said.

“But it’s tough out there. It’s so hard to even pay the rent. Things like owning a home aren’t even a dream people have any more.

“We just want to give that little opportunity to people who might not otherwise have it.”