If you have transited through Brisbane Airport any time in the last 11 years, there is a fair chance you will have crossed paths with George Drivas. He is a big believer of full-strength piccolos, and he is unmissable with his tall stature, perfectly pressed clothes and warm smile. He also just happens to own seven food and beverage outlets located throughout Brisbane Airport’s International and Domestic Terminals.
Seven. Soon to be eight.
It’s no mean feat, particularly when you consider he is only 31 years old. But it’s less surprising when you come to know his passion and work ethic coupled with the fact that he has spent nearly two-thirds of his life within the hospitality industry.
As the son of Emmanuel Drivas, who co-founded The Coffee Club back in 1989, George was probably always destined for a life within the hospitality industry. It would go some way to explaining why he was scrubbing dishes in his mum’s coffee shop by the tender age of 12 just to kill time during the school holidays.
But it’s not just his family history that defines him. By the age of 20, he had opened two stores at Brisbane Airport’s International Terminal before going on to open a third within the BNE Service Centre and a further two stores (made from re-purposed shipping containers!) in the Domestic Terminal forecourt area.
So, what exactly drove him to open and run five The Coffee Club stores within an airport? For George, it was simple.
“When going into an airport, it can sometimes be daunting. People tend to go to something they know, so with The Coffee Club brand, they know exactly what they’re going to get.
“The transient passengers appealed to me. It’s sort of like its own little world out here. You deal with people going on holiday – they’re happy, you’re starting their journey, and vice-versa with people coming into the country, you’re starting their journey into Brisbane as well.
“Just the sheer fact of being with them, serving them, and seeing so many different people from different cultures as well, it’s exciting every day!”
Not content with just mastering the ‘family business’ that is a franchise hospitality environment, George embarked on a bold vision to revolutionise airport dining.
As a proud Brisbanite, he decided to take on the challenge of shifting the way people think about airport food within Brisbane Airport’s International Terminal Departures.
“The inspiration for Windmill and Co was to try and offer passengers something different. It was never done before in Brisbane Airport. What I wanted to offer with Windmill and Co is that chance of relaxing in an area where you can unwind, get served at the table, and offer that something a little bit different.”
Windmill and Co is something that little bit different and so much more. Overlooking the current runway (01R/19L) and The Village Green, it is undoubtedly the best view in the house. Better yet, travellers can sit down and enjoy table service while choosing from a rich, delicious selection of meals, snacks and drinks – traits usually reserved for high-end restaurants.
For George, a strong and memorable first impression is everything, so every inch of Windmill and Co was well thought out. From the rustic décor and exceptional customer service to the mouth-watering menu, it goes well beyond the norm and showcases the tastes and colours of South East Queensland.
“We are the first place people see, and we are the last place people see. What we’re trying to do with our menu – we’ve got 85 per cent local produce on our menu - we’re trying to give them the taste of Brisbane as well. So, they can taste the best of what is grown in Brisbane and its surrounding areas.“
Not content with just transforming the food and beverage offer within the International Terminal, George embarked on his biggest project to date within the Domestic Terminal: The Lord Lamington. Spanning more than 400sqm of the Central Terminal Satellite, The Lord Lamington is the first of two iconic restaurants to be delivered by George and his team as part of the Domestic Terminal’s $40 million redevelopment.
With a menu designed by David Tsirekas, a 20-year-veteran renowned for presenting traditional flavours in an unconventional way, The Lord Lamington Bar and Bistro is a nod to the first Lord to be named governor of Queensland who just so happened to create the delicious lamington. And in true George Drivas style, it carries the same paddock to plate concept with around 85 per cent of produce sourced locally.
The Aviary, which is expected to open in April 2020, will be just as impressive. It will be located on Level 2 between Gates 23 and 22 of the Domestic Terminal, and will offer an exquisite café, bar and cellar mirroring an upscale bar you would typically find in Brisbane’s local hot spots.
“With the food, it’s going to be a mix of all Mediterranean – Turkish dishes, Greek dishes, Italian dishes. It will be all about enjoying fresh and inventive dishes inspired by our best local producers within a light and relaxing setting.”
As a man with a young family who commits to 5am starts and 12-hour days during the week, George is very much a hands-on manager who gets in and gets things done. He prides himself on creating the best possible culture that encourages people to want to work with him every day, so it is no surprise that his team is ever-growing (currently at 168).
“What I like about Brisbane Airport is the sense of family and that family connection. Brisbane Airport is not just a landlord, and you’re not just a tenant. You are part of a greater family, and I actually feel that.
“The sense of family - that makes us better.”
There are few people who could achieve what George has achieved, yet he remains pragmatic and humble.
“With our success in the airport, it’s a few different factors. We wouldn’t be successful if Brisbane Airport wasn’t successful, or, if they didn’t have a vision to grow as they have, we wouldn’t be successful. With our quality and Brisbane Airport’s drive for growth, it’s a really good combination.
“What Brisbane has to offer with the new casino to open up and all of the other tourist attractions, I am so excited by what Brisbane is going to become.”