Josh Baker's biggest project yet is for kids and big kids alike.
Introducing Funtopia Prospect
The centre console of the car lights up with the designer’s name, ‘Matiya Marovich’ on the display. Hospitality entrepreneur Josh Baker answers the call.
“Matiya, how are you, brother?”
CityMag is riding shotgun in the car with Josh, heading out to the site of what is the young businessman’s biggest project yet – Funtopia Prospect.
Funtopia is a global, large-scale, indoor active entertainment business headquartered out of Bulgaria. Funtopia spun out of Walltopia – the world’s largest manufacturer of artificial rock climbing surfaces – and is basically Pizza Planet from the film Toy Story, but with a massive jungle gym, electric go carts, and climbing walls instead of arcade machines.
Josh and his business partners purchased the franchise rights for South Australia two years ago. Adelaide’s first Funtopia will open in early February at the corner of Regency and Main North Roads.
Matiya and Josh’s discussion is their first for 2020 and there’s a great deal of catching up in a short amount of time.
Matiya was caught up in the bushfires while holidaying in western Victoria. Listening to Matiya’s harrowing evacuation story in near silence, the sincere concern on Josh’s face and in his voice – when he finally does speak – is a clear indication of how close these two collaborators in business have become now in life.
When Josh first told us about the Funtopia Prospect project, he was able to make sense of his move into children’s entertainment because of his intent to raise the bar on food, drink and design in such a facility.
“Having Matiya on board with this project was critical to creating the look and feel of the café, food and drink part of the business,” says Josh. Matiya’s architecture company, Sans-Arc has designed every one of Josh’s projects since Pink Moon Saloon. The pair have built their own recipe for success over five years of collaboration.
“Having Stewart Wesson as the brains behind the decks of our kitchen here means the menu will be in the family of Whistle & Flute, Down The Road and Part Time Lover,” says Josh. And even though Funtopia Prospect is still very much a construction site – the food zone is looking unlike anything you’d expect to find in a commercial property of this scale.
The canteen at the front of the large warehouse at the corner of Regency and Main North Road – on the edge of Prospect – looks like it was printed straight out of the architect’s computer.
Mr Spriggin’s has all the hallmarks of a Sans-Arc design, but built from slightly more durable materials – no doubt to weather the storm of simultaneous five-year-old birthday parties.
“We’re actually in business with the franchisor of Australia, so he’s a partner in our projects here in SA,” says Josh. “He really believes in it and in our vision, because the food and beverage element is really why we want to have a crack at this sector – to put our style of hospitality business into a kids’ entertainment facility.
“Don’t get me wrong, there’s still going to be a naughty and nice menu. There’ll still be some serious soft serves and shakes going out,” Josh laughs.
Taking the successful, high-octane and large-format, active kids entertainment concept pioneered by the likes of Bounce and Latitude and then fixing the food and drink offering – so that the mums and dads, uncles and aunties out there can get a decent cup of coffee made by someone who cares – makes complete sense to us.
No offence to the 15-year-old baristas-in-the-making out there, but y’all don’t know how to make coffee yet.
Brett Hicks-Maitland definitely does know how to make coffee.
Brett has come from Josh’s successful Greenhill Road restaurant, Whistle & Flute, to oversee the Funtopia Prospect operation. We joke with Brett that his title – General Manager – isn’t really fun enough for this place.
“What should my title here be called?” Brett asks Josh jokingly. ‘Funstable’ was CityMag’s terrible suggestion.
“How about Dylan Russell? Your character off Home & Away?” says Josh with a laugh.
Indeed, Brett did spend several seasons on the seaside soap opera and even moved to the US to further his acting career, before returning to his hometown of Adelaide and picking up work and eventually managing Whistle & Flute.
“In Melbourne, when I was doing the training with Funtopia, the big volcano slide we’ve got there – kids will get up the top and then not want to go down the slide,” says Brett.
“But the only way to get down is to go down that slide. I spent a lot of my time at Funtopia in Melbourne kicking my shoes off, racing to the top of that volcano, scooping up kids, and going down the slide with them,” he says, laughing.
Funtopia Prospect is nearing completion now and even before the giant climbable bean stalk has gone in, there is a lot of fun here already. Josh takes us for a tour through the giant, netted maze that features the Sydney Harbour Bridge and our own Central Market tower. He points out where two giant foam ball canons will be positioned, where some larger-than-life kangaroos will stand, the go-cart track beneath. It’s every bit a fun factory here.
Brett explains the business works based on time.
“You’ll get a wristband – there are three different wristbands – there’s a Toddler World wristband, a Playground Wristband, and an Access All Areas wristband, which is called the Funtopia Pack,” he says.
“Basically it allows you to play all day and climb for an hour. You’ll get a wristband and a sticker and that sticker will say ‘climbing 3pm’ or whatever.”
“The Climbing World side of this is the real backbone of this business,” says Josh.
“Instead of just toddlers and children under 10, it goes to teenagers and adults. Those walls are 10 metres high – it’s some serious stuff. We’ve got a pro wall there too, so we hope we’ll have people coming in who just want to go for a quick climb for an hour.
“It’s really exciting,” says Josh, looking up and around at the vast expanse of his new enterprise. “I mean, it’s scary as… I’ve never done anything like this before, but I’m quietly confident too.”
Launching Funtopia Propsect
Launching Funtopia Prospect falls to the team from Your Centre – a shopping centre marketing specialist company headquartered out of the Leedwell Property offices on Greenhill Road.
Mikaela Barke says this particular project has been interesting to work on as its both local and global.
“Funtopia wants a bit more of a soft opening to start,” says Mikaela, “but we also know we’ve got to get in early before the story leaks and we lose our opportunity to get the facts straight before our grand opening in April.”
Your Centre is a small team, but also closely related to the Funtopia project. Marketing and events manager Jessica Coope is married to Josh Baker, but says this is the first project they’ve worked on together.
Jessica says the target market for Funtopia Prospect will be broad to begin with due to its location and the ‘new factor’.
“We are right on the cusp of the city here, right next to Prospect too,” says Jessica. “I think it’s going to be families. Mum and Dad can bring the two and three-year-old and also the six-year-old into the one space and they can all be playing at the same time.
“It means its diverse in that way, something for families of all ages and stages and I think that’s a really great part of this business.”