As Adelaide’s hospitality scene grew, Andrew Wong built a business behind the scenes, providing an affordable way for restaurant, bar and winery owners to get their liquor licenses.
Meet the guy who built a business off SA’s liquor licence boom
Andrew Wong always wanted to start a business.
From a young age, he watched his parents build their restaurant and admired their interminable work ethic. It was a mindset he wanted to emulate.
“I thought about all kinds of ideas when I was little, opening stores and restaurants, whatever it was,” Andrew says.
His parents pushed him away from the hospitality industry, hoping their son would study to achieve an easier life – one where work was kept between 9am and 5pm.
With a law and commerce degree, Andrew eventually entered the public sector, working at Consumer and Business Services (CBS) in licensing for plumbing, gas fitting and electrical contractors.
Two months in, Andrew moved to liquor licensing, because it seemed “a lot more exciting”.
“The people were different,” Andrew says.
“As opposed to dealing with tradies, you were dealing with people who are business people, who were starting a business. These are my people.”
In the liquor licensing office, Andrew would give the last approval before an application would go on to get the rubber stamp from the commissioner.
Andrew often found himself gently guiding applicants who were having a hard time.
“You’re not really there to help them, because you’re not allowed to help them, but you just have to point them [in the right direction],” he says.
“You know they’re starting a new business, so they’re in that period where they want to get that licence done.”
At that time, people applying for a licence only had two options: deal with the paperwork yourself and risk a protracted process of fixing mistakes, or pay a lawyer to do it for you.
“They would go through lawyers that were charging crazy amounts to do stuff which they don’t need,” Andrew says.
By 2013, Andrew was familiar enough with the process that he saw an opportunity to be of more assistance to liquor licence applicants. He left CBS and founded Lion Liquor Licensing Consultants.
Lion offered a fixed-price service that guaranteed a liquor licence at the end of eight weeks. He could do this at a much cheaper rate, because of his position as a consultant rather than a lawyer.
Andrew admits this did not make him popular.
“I know they’ve complained about what I was doing, so they tried to stop me from doing it,” he says.
“I’m just giving business owners the confidence to know that, if they call and say, ‘I want to open a restaurant,’ I check and say, ‘Yep, I can get you a licence for this number of people, these hours, no problem.’
“Then they have the confidence to go, ‘Yeah, I’ll sign the lease. Leave it with me.’ And then they can do renovations, knowing they’ll get the licence done by the time that they open, without having to worry.”
Lion’s first year was slow going. Andrew says he made “like $10,000”. He moonlighted in insurance brokerage to fill the quiet moments in his schedule.
Word of his services eventually spread, and Lion’s growth was further helped by the boom in bars and restaurants in the years that followed the introduction of the small venue licence in 2013.
“When we first started the business model, you wouldn’t think how many venues constantly open up – it’s crazy. You couldn’t predict the numbers,” Andrew says.
Lion now deals predominantly with liquor licenses for restaurants, wineries and online sales.
There was an obvious dip in work during lockdown last year, but Andrew says the industry has rebounded stronger in 2021.
“A lot of the hospitality industry has done better than they did pre-COVID,” he says.
“We get the insurance, so we get the turnover from them as well, and they’re all up. And most of them are higher than they were pre-COVID.”
To a degree, Andrew’s parents achieved what they had hoped. Their son is not slogging away in a kitchen.
But his business is inextricably linked to the entrepreneurialism of Adelaide’s food and beverage founders. People like his parents.