4 top restaurateurs reveal what it takes to make it in Melbourne

The Kettle Black \ Chia Bowl. Photo: Supplied

The Kettle Black \ Chia Bowl. Photo: Supplied

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Johnny Di Francesco

Johnny Di Francesco is known as “the pizza king” and his margherita has been crowned the best in the world. As owner of 400 Gradi in Brunswick and Essendon, Zero Gradi gelataria, and Gradi at Crown and Eastland, he employs more than 400 staff and feeds about 4000 people every day.

Johnny Di Francesco. Photo: Steve Scalone

Johnny Di Francesco. Photo: Steve Scalone

First lesson in business?

When I was a teenager, I worked towards purchasing a pair of Nike runners that I wanted really badly. It taught me the value of money and hard work.

Business vision?

To bring a part of my heritage from Naples back to Australia. The education and response has been incredible and rewarding.

Traps for young players?

When restaurants grow and start opening multiple venues, owners tend to back away from the business. It’s one of the biggest mistakes you can make. You must always stay committed to your brand and put in 100 per cent, no matter what.

How do you maintain quality as you grow?

We import a lot of our products from Italy and everything is made fresh at our restaurants. Our brand is all about food from Naples and the fact that we pay respect to our grandparents and our heritage.

 

Simon Blacher

Co-owner of Hanoi Hannah, Tokyo Tina, Saigon Sally and more recently Neptune, Simon is a major player in contemporary Asian cuisine. He and his team employ 130 staff and feed more than 1000 people a day.

Simon Blacher. Photo: Supplied

Simon Blacher. Photo: Supplied

Secret to your success?

We’ve never done anything that didn’t reflect where we wanted to eat out or socialise ourselves. A really good understanding of the area and demographic we operate in also helps.

Biggest challenges so far?

Any operator will tell you that growth is a double-edged sword. You can get caught up in your little bubble of comfort. The hardest bit is actually trusting yourself to take the next step. But the more you do it, the more confident you get, and the lessons learned along the way are invaluable.

Best advice for new starters?

Don’t listen to everybody’s opinions. If you’re constantly adjusting your business model according to everyone’s feedback, you’ll end up with a diluted version of what you originally wanted.

 

Nathan Toleman

It’s hard to stay behind the scenes when you’ve shaped the city’s cafe culture, but Nathan Toleman seems to manage. Along with several business partners, he owns Top Paddock, Higher Ground, The Kettle Black, Square One Coffee Roasters and Lune, but has set up many more.

Nathan Toleman. Photo: Supplied

Nathan Toleman. Photo: Supplied

Secret to success?

Hard work and a good team of like-minded individuals who bring passion to the workplace.

Biggest hurdles?

Growing from one venue to two and then five – being a control freak means I had to trust in my partners and allow them to do what they are good at. On our own we are good, but together we are great.

What’s next?

While so many people care about where their food comes from, not as many know about where their food waste ends up. We’re securing land within an hour of Melbourne, and we’ll charge venues a monthly fee to collect their green waste and compost it there. The businesses can then grow produce from their own compost. If any councils or land owners want to be involved, I’d love to hear from them.

 

Jesse Gerner

Inspired by his travels, Jesse opened Anada on Gertrude Street nearly 10 years ago. Since then, he’s added Bomba, Bomba Rooftop, Green Park and more recently Nomada and Samuel Pepys bottle shop to his list of venues.

Jesse Gerner. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

Jesse Gerner. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

Early ambitions?

I remember in my first job interview at a restaurant in Adelaide, my boss asked what I saw myself doing in 10 or 15 years and I said, “I see myself in your job.”

Best thing about working in Melbourne?

I feel really lucky to be here, because if we do have issues there are a lot of people I can reach out to and who can reach me, with trades or suppliers or new products.

How do you stay inspired?

Travelling – when I come back from a trip, I feel recharged ideas-wise. But then, to keep the quality up, you need strong management and systems, and to have people checking you as well.

How do you keep up the standards?

We use secret diners for quality control and we have weekly meetings where we go over complaints or suggestions. Being able to look at it all every week is important to keep up quality control.

 

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