Early return to home town sees Coghlan play a part in hospitality scene

Simon Coghlan didn’t envision himself returning to Ballarat so early in life. 

But the decision opened up new opportunities for he and his family who have thrived in a regional setting.

STUCK FOR CHOICE: Hospitality consultant Simon Coghlan has seen the hospitality scene thrive in Ballarat over recent years, a dramatic change from when he opened his first restaurant in town in 2004. Picture: Rochelle Kirkham

STUCK FOR CHOICE: Hospitality consultant Simon Coghlan has seen the hospitality scene thrive in Ballarat over recent years, a dramatic change from when he opened his first restaurant in town in 2004. Picture: Rochelle Kirkham

Mr Coghlan was 28-years-old when he returned to Ballarat, and it was success in his first hospitality venture and the lifestyle that kept him there. 

“I honestly didn’t think I would end up back in Ballarat so early. I always thought when I came back it would have been when I had two kids and was 40 something,” he said.

Mr Coghlan moved to Melbourne after finishing school to study a business degree in hotel management, before going on to work in top hotels in Melbourne, Sydney and overseas. 

It was the opportunity to start a business at a family owned site in Camp Street that drew him back to Ballarat in 2004. There he started his first restaurant and tapas bar Phoenix Brewery. 

“That was my first hospitality venture of my own,” he said. 

“My great great grandfather started the original Phoenix Brewery out at Warrenheip back in 1857 which was the prelude to the Ballarat Brewing Co. I used the name for my restaurant and it had a story and a connection. 

“I suppose the greatest part of it is that restaurants are very personal things. They require a personality and you have to provide an experience for people.

“I think you underestimate the value of coming from a family that has been part of a community for a long time. There was a lot of support when I came back to Ballarat.”

Mr Coghlan started Pheonix Brewery at a time when the food and wine scene almost didn’t exist in Ballarat.

“It is amazing to see how far Ballarat has come in 14 years,” he said. 

“When we started Pheonix Brewery, the concept of a tapas bar, which was the driving point of difference behind the business, was still new. There was only a handful of them in Melbourne so to have one in Ballarat was a bit different.

“But even 10 years later when I was finishing up as owner of Golden City Hotel the proliferation of restaurants and diverse offerings didn’t exist. Ballarat hospitality has come to life now.” 

Mr Coghlan and his family soon moved to Buninyong, a town he describes as having a magical and energising feel.

He has since continued to connect to the community through both his ventures in hospitality including owning the Western Hotel, Buninyong Hotel and now as a hospitality consultant, but also serving on the board of Commerce Ballarat, Ballarat Regional Tourism and Committee for Ballarat throughout the years. 

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