Client Story: Union Bridge Brewery & Distillery

Client Story: Union Bridge Brewery & Distillery

Entrepreneur Steve O’Connor has run lots of different businesses over the years – but without a doubt, the Union Bridge Brewery and Distillery has been his biggest endeavour and challenge.

Now a 1920’s-style brewery, distillery and restaurant located in Cudlee Creek, South Australia, the Union Bridge journey began in 2015 when Steve and his partner Gerri Milham first bought the property: A run-down “old cold stores” that had been an eyesore in the local community for years.

Their first step was to develop a plan and design, which included a brewery and distillery, cellar door, and three high-end cottages. However, once the designs were prepared, the Council (in conjunction with the EPA) dismissed the project and said that it would never be approved because it was too close to the Torrens River.

The rejection led to a series of engineering designs and reports being prepared to address all the Council’s concerns. Finally, after two years, the Council said they would allow the project to proceed – but only with the removal of the three cottages from the plan.

After another two years, the team finally met all the necessary requirements and the project was put up to State Planning for final approval, which was achieved in November 2019, and building works commenced in December 2019.

Then, three weeks into the building process, the Cudlee Creek Fire started across the road.

“Fortunately, the fire went away from us,” says Steve. “However, due to the emergency vehicles and safety crews, etc., we were denied access to the area for four weeks.”

After being allowed access again, building works recommenced for another six weeks . . . and then COVID hit.

“The only fortunate thing was that we were classified as an essential service (as a brewery!),” explains Steve. “But whilst we could continue to build, supplies weren’t always available since a lot of manufacturers weren’t able to work. For instance, the timber posts that hold up the veranda were specially made in Melbourne, and due to their lockdowns, we didn’t receive them for eleven months.”

One bright spot, however, came in 2021, when Union Bridge received a government grant for the development of the kitchen and distillery. This was a great achievement for a small business, but it was also a bittersweet one.

“Receiving a government grant reinforces what you’re trying to develop, as well as providing a nice injection of money into your business,” Steve explains. “However, grant payments are only made once you’ve completed a stage of a project, and all the bills you’re claiming must be paid for with your own money first. This has a nasty kick which can affect cash flow enormously.”

And yet, despite all these roadblocks, building continued and they finally opened their doors to the public in September 2022, after seven years.

Oreon Partner Jarrad Dunn says, “It’s been awesome to see Steve pull off this immense project. I couldn’t visualise what he was planning to do in the beginning. It’s incredible to see what’s been created out of what I saw as just a run-down old shed!”

Keys to success

Needless to say, determination has been vital to the founding and ultimate success of this business.

“We had to have a flexible plan that could, and was, adjusted to meet the changes throughout the project, and we needed a good relationship with our bank,” Steve says. “We also had to have supportive, flexible employees who were prepared to do anything to get the job done.”

In fact, careful planning is what he urges most to other entrepreneurs.

“Plan, plan, plan, and make sure it’s a flexible plan that can be changed as hurdles are come across,” he says. “Then stick to your goals and understand that almost all roadblocks you come across are surmountable.”

Oreon Partners’ role in the journey

Jarrad Dunn has known Steve for nearly 20 years. Oreon has worked with Steve on numerous business ventures since then, assisting in areas including tax, bank dealings, business structuring, and Xero conversion and training.

“We were involved a lot in the early days of Union Bridge with the structuring and financing,” says Jarrad.

Steve says, “Oreon has been a long-standing advisor to Union Bridge, with access to a range of services that helped support us and got through the ups and downs of getting up and running.

“Whether we used them as a sounding board for certain ideas or for technical advice, Oreon has helped us achieve our goals,” he adds. “The best thing is, they listen and are prepared to help where they can so you can achieve what you want.”

Future of the business

Having only opened their doors a few months ago, the team is currently focused on building their brand through selective marketing, but ultimately, they hope to expand.

“In the future, we hope to develop our product range and then push that range of beers, sparkling beverages, gin, vodka, and whiskey throughout Australia,” Steve says.

To learn more, visit the Union Bridge website.