With seven venues, and three more coming this year, Potentia Solutions Leisure is bringing global hospitality to Australia’s fastest-changing city.
If there were awards for Brisbane’s most formidable ambassador, Ross Ledingham would have a cabinet full of trophies. If you don’t know him by name, his bold and exciting vision of hospitality ensures that you will very soon.
“When I first came here, everybody always told me that Brisbane was a big country town,” says Ledingham. “Sure, maybe once upon a time it was, but even before the Olympics came along, Brisbane has been changing incredibly quickly. And it’s fantastic to see.” Ledingham is the Founder and Managing Director of Potentia Solutions Leisure, a fast-growing hospitality group behind a new wave of experiential and conceptual bar and dining lifestyle brands opening across the city. These include Lina rooftop restaurant and pool bar; Peruvian-Japanese restaurant and bar, Soko; artisanal deli Soul Green and, opening this month, Carmen Tequileria.
Having carved a near-20-year career as the man behind some of the most exquisite establishments, across London, Dubai, Bahrain and Qatar, Ledingham is now building his own brands and aiming to bring the very same high-quality and exciting hospitality found in the Middle East to Brisbane, and maybe even beyond.
Looking to be closer to his partner’s family and to seek out life at a different speed than Dubai, Ledingham relocated to Australia in 2019, a move that came as a relief, considering what was to happen in the following months. Eventually, after getting to know the market, consulting on various projects, educating himself on the Australian hospitality scene and scouring the country for the most exciting, agile and scalable place to build his hospitality empire, Ledingham landed in Brisbane in July 2020. As the East Coast capital city currently undergoing an electrifying reinvigoration, including several luxury retail and hotel openings, the new Queens Wharf riverside development and the incoming 2032 Olympic Games, where else? By October, Ledingham had signed two venues. And since then, he says, he has grown from an operation of three staff to one that is 800-strong.
One of those two venues, Lina, is now among Brisbane’s hottest haunts. It’s a stunning 1500m2 offering on top of the roof of a newly-developed commercial building in South Brisbane. It brags breathtaking sunsets and overlooks the river and Queens Wharf development, with vistas that stretch from the CBD to Mount Cotton. It also is the only rooftop bar bragging a 30-metre pool that isn’t a hotel. “We managed to convince the owner of the building when it was still in construction to change the DA to be able to build a pool, and then it continued to roll from there,” Ledingham smiles. Launching new venues amid what was undoubtedly hospitality’s most historic crisis was a bold move, but Ledingham was confident in his vision, and Lina opened in February 2022.
“Every little thing has been thought through,” he says, noting how he has brought the ethos of Dubai’s experimental and considered style of hospitality to his concepts. “In Dubai, there was this level of expectation —you don’t have to touch a door to walk in, you wave your hands so that it opens and closes, you walk into the bathrooms and every single cubicle has its own sink and hand dryer, nice soaps and lotions and big bench space. It is that added element.”
This has translated to offering hair tools and touch-up-friendly spaces in the women’s bathrooms, and retail touch points so that visitors could buy a swimsuit if they wanted to join their friends or a dressier outfit, should they want to stay into the evening. “We also have DJs and Bongo players during the evening (weekends) that continue the vibe,” says Ledingham.
Lina’s popularity was a bit of a slow burn among Brisbanites who didn’t know what to expect, but eventually, curiosity won consumers over. “Putting a pool on a rooftop in the middle of the city, with a restaurant and telling people you can use it as a day bed, rather than having them book a hotel or sit on a beach on the Gold Coast, it was something that was very weird for people at the beginning,” he says. “But once they understood what we were trying to create, and the marketing that we did around it, they resonated very quickly and became very successful.”
Another of Ledingham’s early venues that acts as a proof-of-concept for immersive, experiential dining is Soko, a jungle-themed Peruvian-Japanese fusion restaurant in Fortitude Valley. Like Lina, Soko is a highly entertaining experience: in the evenings (Thursday – Sunday) you might encounter fire-twirling Brazilian or Peruvian dancers, or during the day, Manko, a 3ft2-ish Macaw who wanders the venue posing for selfies. “Adding all these other elements is what I love to do.” Of course, if you’ve paid any attention to trending cuisine within luxury circles lately, you might have noticed the rise of Peruvian food and drinks. Ledingham wanted to do his a little differently: by introducing the familiar.
“Brisbane people want what the rest of the world has. They are incredibly open to new concepts and new ideas and things that push the boundaries of what they’re used to,” he explains. “But you have to be prepared to give it time or else find a way to incorporate something that helps them feel more comfortable with it.” This yearning for a familiar form of escapism isn’t just Brisbane-exclusive, though, it was also a notable post-COVID mindset seen globally. “Soko could have been a full Peruvian restaurant.
But I sat back and looked at it and thought, ‘Okay, well. What can we do to make the market understand it a little bit more, that doesn’t change what I want it to be from a brand perspective?’” And by adding the Japanese element, he says, he found natural synergies in the cuisine. “By incorporating the Japanese element, it was a larger story for us to be able to tell that made people embrace it a lot more because it had something that they resonated with, so they were happy to try it. I think if you go full hog on something a bit new to people, then you need to find a way to tweak or market it in a way that’s receptive to the clientele.”
Next up will see Potentia Solutions Leisure open two more new venues —with a third announced later this year. This month, Carmen Tequileria will open. It’s a chic Mexican taqueria located on James Street, where a slew of new luxury retail developments are underway. In planning Carmen, Ledingham and his team noted what was missing from the James Street precinct. But they were also conscious that the Mexican most people think about is more Tex-Mex-style, which, says the founder, can leave you feeling quite heavy.
Instead, they wanted to create a place that was fresh, light and flavourful; incorporating traditional coastal Mexican cuisines, with a little South American and Japanese influence —tacos made with nori, for example—light enough to not ruin your day and land you in a post-lunch food coma. It also has an innovative zero-waste cocktail menu, full of tequila and mezcal, naturally. “It was about making it so that it was, light with great cocktails, and delicate elements, but still fulfilling and not overpriced,” he says.
Following Carmen and opening in August will be Claw, the group’s biggest venue to date. This Southern US-themed grill and crab shack is the group’s first foray into family-friendly conceptual dining. “Claw is a lot of fun,” smiles Ledingham. “It’ll have all the things we love to eat to experience that great American dream.” Think messy eating, sports on TVs, arcade games, photo moments, a kids play area and a cute crab mascot. Plus it’s right next to the Brisbane ‘Ekka’ entertainment hub. “It’s a fun brand for us. We have all these high-end brands and lifestyle businesses already, whereas Claw offers that everyday, fun, cheeky market—Claw is something everybody can go to every day of the week.”
Clearly, a major part of Potentia Solutions Leisure’s success comes down to Ledingham’s strategic approach that seemingly rests on a mixture of location-spotting, gauging the needs of the consumer in that locale and an inspired ‘if you build it they will come’ philosophy. But there’s also a little bit of fairy dust at play. “I think the restaurants are great. And I’m a big fan of different concepts and creating the everyday restaurant, but people want more than that, post-COVID,” says Ledingham. “For many people, it’s either too expensive to travel or their expenses are going up. People still like to go out, but they want more of their money. And that’s not a case of they want a bigger portion or they want a cheaper price.” If all goes well up north, Ledingham says he has his eyes on Sydney next, but not before he reveals a few more of the signed leases up his sleeve. The point is, Potentia Solutions Leisure has no plans to slow down. But when you’re having this much fun, why would you?