Waiting To Be FOUND.

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. The '92 Olympics Dream Team. The Traveling Wilburys. Finney, Will, Nat & Scotty.

Supergroups, one and all. Even if some – for now at least – are better known than the other, which is waiting to be FOUND.

It's a wait that shouldn't go on too much longer, however, now the development application has been approved for one of the most ambitious craft beer and hospo projects in Australia. Barring disaster, the team behind FOUND. will break ground later this year and have their 25-hectolitre brewhouse and 1,000 capacity, multifaceted venue on the heritage-listed site of the former Perth Girls School operational and welcoming guests by the end of 2023.

"But why the supergroup reference?" you may well ask.

Well, even if you've never heard of any of the foursome behind FOUND., there's a good chance you've enjoyed beers in which they've had a hand, whether that's designing and brewing them, getting them from brewery into drinkers' hands, or running the venue in which you've enjoyed them.

The Will is Will Irving (above second from right), the former Feral brewer we've written about many times in the past – most recently through his role assisting the founders of Slumdog Brewing, which is based on the Swan Valley site of the former Feral brewpub.

Nat is Natalie Moeahu-Pehi (above second from left), who switched a career in high performance sport and events management for craft beer, becoming Feral's marketing manager before moving on once the brewing company was acquired by Coca-Cola Amatil to become venue manager overseeing the opening of the award-winning Whitfords Brewing Co in Perth's northern suburbs.

Scotty is Scott Player (above left), who has enjoyed a storied career in WA's beer industry, starting out at Foster's before enjoying success in national head of sales roles with Little Creatures, Matso's and Gage Roads, where he helped devise their "Returning To Craft" strategy and secure pouring rights at Perth's Optus Stadium.

And Finney is Steve Finney (above right), who also started out at Foster's and Little Creatures before being approached by Feral co-founder Brendan Varis, going on to help drive the Swan Valley brewery's annual output from 300,000 to 2.5 million litres. Following Feral's sale, he moved to Gage Roads then Otherside before stepping away last year to work full-time on a project that had been occupying his mind since way back in 2015.

"I've dedicated an hour a day to tinkering away on this for the past seven years before focusing on it full-time since March last year," Steve told The Crafty Pint. "It's something I've always dreamed of since starting in the industry in 2004: to open my own pub or bar. Now it's grown into a large pub and a fairly large brewery...

"I've always been speaking to Will about doing something. Scotty has always been across my plans, and has been my business mentor pretty much my whole career from when we worked at Matilda Bay together around the time of the Fat Yak launch. And we've got Nat to look after hospitality."

 

Steve Finney, who's been working on his vision for FOUND. since 2015.

 

Locating such a sizeable brewery venue so close to Perth's CBD – "The best regional craft brewery in WA in the middle of town" is how the FOUND.ers like to refer to it – is one of the most exciting aspects of the project, yet they very nearly ended up in the suburb of Bassendean. Steve had been scouring the impact reports from Perth's Fringe World to see where most sales were coming from, figuring they were the sort of people who'd be keen to have a brewery venue open in their midst. The search led them to a "beautifully-restored 1920s warehouse" in Bassendean, where they reached a heads of lease agreement, only to walk away due to frustrations with the landlord.

Around the same time, one of their investors had sold property to Australian Development Capital, who owned the old Perth Girls School site, which had been operating as one of Fringe World's festival hubs. An introduction was made and new plans were drawn up.

"The initial way we looked at where to put the brewery was based on Fringe festival impact reports, and now we're sharing a site with the Fringe festival," Steve says.

Their arrival on site is just part of the wider development taking place in that area of East Perth. What was a car park is being converted into parklands in front of their venue – parklands that are fully licensed, will account for most of FOUND.'s capacity, and can be expanded to host festivals for several thousand people, while 700 new apartments are being erected nearby too. It will be the second closest venue to Optus Stadium after The Camfield, while the WACA – also currently under redevelopment – is closer still, and Perth's CBD is within walking distance.

The main bar and kitchen will be located within parts of the heritage-listed building, with a hidden courtyard to the rear; the dedicated production brewery will take shape inside a new 1,000 square metre building next door. The design has already been completed by Steve Symons, best known for his work with Little Creatures, and Benson Studio, which counts Freo.Social among its past projects.

"We've no plans on being a little brewpub. We do have commercial plans, and having that commercial size craft brewery on site is something that's going to set us apart," Steve says, adding later: "It's about having the sort of experience you do at breweries in the South West like Shelter or Wild Hop or Beerfarm – we want to provide that in the city."

 

A render of FOUND.'s future location on the site of the former Perth Girls School.

 

They're commercial plans that are ambitious – they want to be recognised as the best craft brewer in WA – but also come with a ceiling: the plan is to sell most of their beer within WA, with SA as their secondary target market.

There's likely to be plenty of people within the WA beer and hospo industry eager to see them succeed too. Another way in which Steve and the team have made an effort to stand apart is the way in which they went about raising funds on top of the money the four of them have invested.

Inspired by what Steve refers to as "some out of the box thinking", he and Scott "raised capital through the right people, in the right way that aligned with our way of thinking."

As he explains: "We raised all of our money through people who are going to help us build the brand. All of our investors are liquor store owners, bar owners, wholesalers, distributors and so on, with just a couple that are on the edge of the industry.

"They're all relationships that Scott and I have built over the past 15 years – all people that we respect in the industry." And who have invested without any requirement or expectation that they take on FOUND. beers once the brewery launches.

It's not just the combination of scale and location, or the way in which they've funded the project to date, that the team believes makes them stand apart from their beer world peers either. Laid out in their proposal document are the means by which they plan to become "the preferred employer in the space in Australia" and attract the cream of the crop to work for them. There's a profit share scheme for all full-time staff, flexible hours, birthdays off work, 100 percent transparency with employees across all company financials, and paid sabbaticals on the one hand, then more industry-specific perks such as paid Cicerone training and collab brews in honour of significant moments for staff – the birth of a child for example.

Within a wider industry that's thrown up its fair share of horror stories, whether that's high profile restaurateurs or chains underpaying staff or brewery owners working staff to the bone as they experience rapid growth, such intentions will be warmly welcomed.

"There's a lot of stuff that's in that document that wouldn't normally be there," Steve says, "and that was a filter to make sure we had the right investors on board. There were some people that didn't get that people and culture thing, but it's one of the key drivers for us in wanting to do our own thing.

"Both Scott and I have been big on building a positive team culture everywhere that we've worked ... within the limitations we have had within different businesses. This time, it's really for us: we're able to create what we've previously created at other places but also get to go fully wild to create – hopefully – the ultimate place to work."

There's a chance they'll tease the local market with a couple of beers before they have both happy customers and employees too. For now, however, with funding secured and development application approved, the supergroup can start looking forward to taking centre stage in their hometown.

That said, in comments that echo the world's most famous foursome, Steve is keen to point out it wouldn't have been possible without a little help from their friends.

"There's not a single person working on this that isn't a friend," he says, "or a reference from someone we know."

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