Team players raise the bar
High school sweethearts Brett and Michelle could well be called the Dynamic Duo in hospitality, as Moya Stevens discovers
We are focusing on creating a family venue with very good food at reasonable prices and we refuse to introduce poker machines
When Brett Marshman and Michelle Fox met behind the starting blocks at the Melbourne’s Olympic Park swimming pool, it marked the start of a personal and professional partnership which spans the decades.
Michelle was a Strathmore girl whose family loved the outdoors and the surname Fox features in Australia’s swimming and water polo records. Michelle excelled at swimming, being Victorian State Champion and a silver and bronze medallist at a national level.
Brett, whose athletic passion was running, spent some time swimming, hence meeting Michelle at a swim meet when they were only 16 years of age. He was the national junior 1500m running champion and national 400m senior and relay champion.
“Our sporting careers never really reached fruition because of our relationship as in those days there was no money in sport so we both had to work,” Brett said.
Brett went to Essendon Technical College and studied Business Management and Commercial Cooking and Michelle studied office administration work including bookkeeping.
Brett’s first job was at the Red Eagle Pub in Albert Park and worked under a former naval chef.
“He had worked on the Royal Yacht Britannia and I learned more from him in the 2½ years with him than I did in the next 25 years,” Brett said.
Michelle started working in a stock brokers firm but by the mid ’80s was in a management team working with hotel receivers where she learned much about financial management in the hospitality industry.
“Of course the late ’80s saw interest rates rise dramatically and many hotels and restaurants hit very hard times,” Michelle explained.
In 1988 their only child, Jaye, was born and soon the couple developed a consultancy business, saving restaurants and hotels from financial doom.
“We were really successful in this, particularly with our background and training,” Brett said.
It was evident that as a team they had the hallmarks of potential success to bought their own restaurants and hotels in various locations around Victoria.
“In 2008 we bought a fish and chip shop in Traralgon in an effort to take it a little easy,” Brett laughed, “but in 18 months our takings went from $4000 a week to $20,000 a week.”
“A van had been parked across the road from the shop for about a week and eventually this guy came in and said he had been watching our trade, made us a ridiculously good offer, so we sold.”
After a well-earned rest, an offer of managing the Mt Baw Baw resort was made to Brett by the Victorian government and a condition of his accepting the position was that Michelle would be employed as the assistant manager.
“It was probably the most arduous job I ever had in my life with about 90 staff, a licensed pub, two restaurants, a kiosk and a general store,” Brett said.”
“After three years of managing the resort, the food and beverage takings where higher than the lifts’ takings which had never happened before.”
In 2012 the couple bought a pub, in Morwell, and according to Brett and Michelle, it was a tough town in the midst of an economic downturn.
“We changed the place from a drunks’ bar to a great place to eat and drink,” Michelle said, “and we resisted the introduction of poker machines which ended up being a selling point.”
So how did this couple end up in Mossman?
“We have friends, Mark and Julie Collins, who were travelling through Far North Queensland and Mark has a great passion for old hotels,” Brett explained.
“They stopped at the Exchange to have a look, saw that an auction for the place was happening and he bought it.
“The place was derelict, but he poured money into it to get the doors open again, put managers in but it wasn’t really working. He contacted us and said that the place needed us to run it, so 18 months ago we took over.
“I was commuting up and back for a while and then Michelle joined me about 12 months ago,” Brett said.
“It is a fabulous old hotel, built 121 years ago, with so much charm and history,” Michelle said, “but it hasn’t been easy, Mossman being a town of about 1800 people with three pubs and a bowls club.”
“We are focusing on creating a family venue with very good food at reasonable prices and we refuse to introduce poker machines.”
When asked about how they see Mossman’s future, both Brett and Michelle said they are excited about the proposed Botanic Garden.
“The town has wonderful character which can be a tourism destination in itself with the sugar trains going through the main street and the sugar mill,” Brett said.
Their son Jaye and his fiancée Bianca joined Brett and Michelle running the hotel.
“And our job at the Exchange is to provide a safe place for people to have a good time,” Brett said.
Brett Marshman and Michelle Fox at the Exchange Hotel. inset: The hotel prior to the 1934 cyclone