Merivale hospitality king Justin Hemmes’ ambitious plans for Melbourne pubs, a Sydney skyscraper 

Katie R. Ochoa

Justin Hemmes is set to take his biggest career risks by building a skyscraper and taking on a new city while continuing his hard-driving playboy lifestyle.

The billionaire pub baron plans to revamp the Ivy precinct by putting a tower on the site, develop his third entertainment zone in the Sydney CBD and shake up Melbourne’s pub scene.

Hemmes confidently laid out his ambitious plans in a profile with Good Weekend, which also quoted friends and rivals backing his chances of success.

Billionaire Justin Hemmes is set to take his biggest career risks by building a skyscraper and taking on a new city while continuing his hard-driving playboy lifestyle. (pictured with model girlfriend Madeline Holtznagel)

Billionaire Justin Hemmes is set to take his biggest career risks by building a skyscraper and taking on a new city while continuing his hard-driving playboy lifestyle. (pictured with model girlfriend Madeline Holtznagel)

Having split with the mother of his two children, Kate Fowler, Hemmes now dates 26-year-old model Madeline Holtznagel, whom he affectionately calls 'Maddie mumu' (she is pictured posing on the island he part owns, Haggerstone Island)

Having split with the mother of his two children, Kate Fowler, Hemmes now dates 26-year-old model Madeline Holtznagel, whom he affectionately calls ‘Maddie mumu’ (she is pictured posing on the island he part owns, Haggerstone Island)

But the man himself was not forthcoming about the $129million class action against him. 

The Federal Court case, run by Canberra law firm Adero, alleges his Merivale group failed to pay thousands of staff correct penalty rates between 2013 and 2019. 

Hemmes would only say only his staff are ‘the most important’ element of the business and they know he is ‘passionate about caring’ for them. 

That’s despite Federal Court testimony alleging some staff were expected to work 100-hour weeks.

Justin Hemmes is known to adore his 90-year-old mother, Merivale (pictured, with her husband John Hemmes) - who Hemmes' billion-dollar empire is named after

Justin Hemmes is known to adore his 90-year-old mother, Merivale (pictured, with her husband John Hemmes) – who Hemmes’ billion-dollar empire is named after

Young Justin Hemmes is pictured with his late father John, who became a successful businessman in the property market after emigrating from Europe. He survived a horrific spell as a World War II prisoner-of-war

Young Justin Hemmes is pictured with his late father John, who became a successful businessman in the property market after emigrating from Europe. He survived a horrific spell as a World War II prisoner-of-war

Having split with the mother of his two children, Kate Fowler (pictured), Hemmes now dates model Madeline Holtznagel, whom he affectionately calls 'Maddie mumu'

Having split with the mother of his two children, Kate Fowler (pictured), Hemmes now dates model Madeline Holtznagel, whom he affectionately calls ‘Maddie mumu’

Adero said it expects a settlement in the case in June. 

One area where Hemmes’ freely admits ‘guilt’ is in enjoying his famously racy lifestyle.

Having split with the mother of his two children, Kate Fowler, Hemmes now dates model Madeline Holtznagel, whom he affectionately calls ‘Maddie mumu’.

At 26 years old she is 23 years younger than Hemmes, who turns 50 this August.

In mid-May he shared a video of Ms Holtznagel on his back while kite-surfing on holiday in New Caledonia, captioned with Snoop Dogg lyrics ‘when the pimp’s in the crib drop it like its hot’.

Hemmes plans to revamp the Ivy precinct by putting a tower on the site, develop his third entertainment zone in the Sydney CBD and shake up Melbourne's pub scene

Hemmes plans to revamp the Ivy precinct by putting a tower on the site, develop his third entertainment zone in the Sydney CBD and shake up Melbourne’s pub scene

Hemmes is set to build another buzzing Merivale zone around the Hotel CBD on King Street in Sydney

Hemmes is set to build another buzzing Merivale zone around the Hotel CBD on King Street in Sydney

In the past year Hemmes has also begun serious moves on the Melbourne pub scene. Pictured is the Lorne Hotel on the Great Ocean Road which Hemmes bought for $38million

In the past year Hemmes has also begun serious moves on the Melbourne pub scene. Pictured is the Lorne Hotel on the Great Ocean Road which Hemmes bought for $38million

He also bought the seven-storey 1853 Tomasetti House, on Flinders Lane, in 2021 for $43million

He also bought the seven-storey 1853 Tomasetti House, on Flinders Lane, in 2021 for $43million

Ms Holtznagel also shared photos of the kitesurfing adventure and of herself in a skimpy bikini on Haggerstone Island, in far north Queensland, which Hemmes part owns. 

On the same trip she and fellow model Yvette La went jet skiing.

When asked if he’d ever get married, Hemmes claimed his relationship with Ms Fowler fit his definition of a marriage. He also questioned the definition of the word ‘playboy’.

‘[Is it] someone who has a lot of fun? Maybe I’m guilty of that, but I get much more pleasure out of working, building and creating rather than living a life of leisure.’

Hemmes is famously a workaholic, often working until 3am and stopping in the middle of his own family engagements in Merivale venues to rush off and do maintenance, such as clearing gutters.

He is known to adore his 90-year-old mother, Merivale – who Hemmes’ billion-dollar empire is named after. 

She was a fashion designer whose clothes were believed to have been worn by Hollywood icons including Marlene Dietrich and Liza Minnelli and rock god Mick Jagger.

On her 90th birthday he posted a heartfelt public tribute, ‘To the coolest, most stylish, elegant, sophisticated, intelligent and caring mother… a loving doting mum who always has our backs.’

His father, John, became a successful businessman in the Australian property market after emigrating from Europe. He survived a horrific spell as a World War II prisoner-of-war. 

He died in 2015. 

'This was never going to end well': Last week, Hemmes shared a series of photographs capturing the incident in which he broke his ankle to his Instagram page

‘This was never going to end well’: Last week, Hemmes shared a series of photographs capturing the incident in which he broke his ankle to his Instagram page

On the mend!  Hemmes walked on crutches during an outing with girlfriend Madeline Holtznagel after the accident

On the mend!  Hemmes walked on crutches during an outing with girlfriend Madeline Holtznagel after the accident

Hemmes rides an electric bike to work most days, preferring to leave his ‘incredible’ car collection untouched. 

Hemmes owns at least nine 1960s and ’70s-era muscle cars including Mustangs, Corvettes, Cobras plus a camouflage-painted Humvee. 

Among other toys he owns a private jet, a sea plane and a stake in the far north Queensland holiday island.

Aside from working huge hours and collecting classic cars, Hemmes loves scuba diving, kitesurfing, power boats and motorsports.

In May he flew in his private jet to knock out a few high speed circuits of Bathurst’s famous Mount Panorama in a Porsche.

He’s entered a few races, done well at times but also had several accidents, spinning off the track and even flipping.

He’s also crashed a $290,000 Scarab speedboat on Sydney Harbour, injuring friends.

Last year he broke his left ankle kite-surfing. 

‘If you’re not having accidents, you’re not driving hard enough,’ Hemmes said.

Hemmes new plans for the Ivy site are vague but include a multi-use tower that ‘blur the lines’ between public spaces, work and partying.

He describes the project as the ‘biggest challenge’ of his career and a ‘game changer’ for Merivale.

One estimate puts construction costs for the Ivy revamp at $300million. 

While Hemmes gambles on spending up as he sends his iconic Ivy precinct skywards, he is set to build another buzzing Merivale zone around the Hotel CBD on King Street in Sydney.

His plans include glamming up properties at 50 King Street, 104 Clarence Street and 71 and 73 York Street to become signature Merivale showpieces.

One of his biggest rivals, fellow publican Stu Laundy, predicts Hemmes will succeed partly because he’s seen as ‘too big to fail’.  

In the past year Hemmes has also begun serious moves on Melbourne, buying the seven-storey 1853 Tomasetti House, on Flinders Lane, in 2021 for $43million and the Lorne Hotel on the Great Ocean Road for $38million.

Pub broker, Andrew Jolliffe, managing director of HTL Property, predicts Hemmes will succeed in Melbourne – and the man himself agreed.

Hemmes claimed he could look at any hotel and estimate how much needed to be spent on it and how much it would make and be accurate ‘within 10 per cent’. 

‘I see everything,’ he claimed. 

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