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Damon Henricksen of Flame Brothers talks hospitality in the Grampians

2 Jul. 2021

In the Grampians, local business owners work together to create an unbeatable holistic experience for visitors. You might initially come to the Grampians to explore the National Park but find the region has so much more to delight in. From wineries to restaurants, cafes, breweries, markets and galleries, there are so many options for a well-rounded and personalised trip.

We’re proudly home to many, many successful businesses and entrepreneurs. One of whom is hospitality entrepreneur, Damon Henricksen. In just 18 months Damon and his family have gone from running their small family business to operating three (Flame Brother’s Restaurant & Bar, Gelato Guys and The Town Fryer) in Halls Gap, employing around 40 people in total!

In this chat with Damon, you’ll learn about his entrepreneurial journey and contribution to the Grampians’ thriving hospitality scene...

Why the Grampians?

I grew up out near Lake Bolac and when I was 16 years old my family decided to move to the western suburbs of Melbourne. After a few years and a couple of kids later, my partner and I decided to move back to the area (in Pomonal) in late 2018.

The main reason? Melbourne was becoming chaotic. The commute to work was getting worse and I was getting frustrated and restless. I realised how much I preferred the lifestyle when growing up in regional Victoria and we wanted that for our kids too.

When we first moved, I had no intention of opening a restaurant. I have always worked in the hospitality industry and Will from Livefast Cafe took me on as an employee when I first moved here. I then worked with him and his team during the time they opened Paper Scissors Rock brewery. While I was working at Livefast Cafe, I would often stare at the existing Quarry Restaurant where Flame Brothers is now located and have visions of how great the place could be.

Truthfully, it was Will who encouraged me to “have a go” and put in an offer to buy the Quarry Restaurant. As an employee, I grew to love my colleagues, the customers, and the community. The idea of opening my own business in this area was becoming very enticing. Eventually after lots of discussions, business plans, meetings with the bank, solicitors etc the sale of the business went through and so began our journey as a family. It’s myself, my brothers Kyle and Mathew, my parents, Sharon & Anton who are all partners. I also employ two of my younger brothers, as well as my partner Natasha who works with us at Flame Brothers restaurant.

We never expected the hospitality scene to be so strong when we moved to the Grampians region, and with plenty of support the whole thing came together nicely.

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Why American BBQ?

There were so many styles of food businesses that were discussed in the planning stages between myself and my family. Ultimately, I decided on the American BBQ theme as it was very unique to this area. At the time no other venues this side of Melbourne were doing that style of food. We wanted to deliver an experience like no other in Halls Gap. We always planned to operate breakfast, lunch & dinner 7 days a week. It took a while to get to this stage but eventually we had a big enough team and were able to sustain 7 days of trade comfortably. A spanner was thrown in the works a few months after opening with COVID lockdowns. However, we made a decent impression in our first few months of trade, and the feedback was good.

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How did you go from one to three businesses so quickly?

During the second lockdown we were approached by the landlords of the existing fish and chip shop asking if we were interested in taking on the business. Somehow during discussions, we talked ourselves in to opening an ice cream shop in the same strip! After some lengthy renovations we managed to open the “Gelato Guys” store on Boxing Day, 2020. On the 8th of June 2021, after a crazy holiday season we opened the “The Town Fryer” which is currently open for takeaway while we make some finishing touches.

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Tell us more about Flame Brothers.

Flame Brothers Restaurant & Bar is located in the heart of Halls Gap, alongside Stoney Creek. It offers a unique dining experience, being the only venue in the area with an American BBQ inspired menu. Think BBQ pork ribs, salt and pepper brisket, dry rub beef ribs and Nashville chicken wings. For vegetarians there’s buffalo cauliflower, tofu and beetroot burgers, tangy coleslaw and charred corn on the cob.

Supporting local is a big part of the Flame Brothers business model. You can expect to see local vineyards and brewers on the drinks list.

“We support a few different local vineyards on our wine lists, and always try to support other local businesses on social media and recommend customers book a cellar door experience. I worked with Paper Scissors Rock and Kyle my brother worked with Pomonal Estate for quite some time, so we have pretty strong relationships there” says Damon.

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How about Gelato Guys?

Gelato Guys opened last year. Damon tells us that they are constantly making new flavours on site. This gives them a lot of freedom (and fun!) to play with flavour combinations.

“We quite often use native ingredients which are always very popular. We will be looking to expand our offering from just ice cream in the future. Currently we have two display cabinets with 20 flavours on offer which change all the time. We will be introducing a third display cabinet soon and look at a few more pastry/cake/confectionery options” explains Damon.

Expect to find sorbet flavours including Mango, Wild Berry, Passionfruit, Blood orange, Lemon, Watermelon, Fruit Medley, Banana, Black Hawaii (activated charcoal, coconut & cocoa) and Vegan Chocolate.

When it comes to ice-cream flavours think Lemon Meringue, Cookies & Cream, Espresso, Liquorice, Vanilla Bean, Turkish delight, Salted Caramel, Raspberry & White chocolate, Pistachio, Bubblegum, Orange Choc Chip, Creme Brûlée, Dulce De Leche to name a few.

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Any other big plans we can expect from the Henricksen family?

Who knows?! We have a bit going on already! It certainly was not planned for or expected to grow so quickly; however, we really enjoy being able to bring fun new venues to the area. Everything we have done so far has been well received from the community. Given the right opportunities we would love to continue to grow.

It’s exciting to think about actually! I have seen a couple of ventures come to fruition while I have been in the area. I think the amount of opportunity in the region is massive, and it is great to see people capitalise on that.