Maz Salt’s first taste of the hospitality business was in King’s Cross. It was the mid-1980s and The Cross was not the fashionable place it is today. Maz was 14 and had run away from home with a backpack and $5.
“I hitchhiked with a Yugoslavian taxi driver who emptied his money belt and gave me all the change he had,” he says. “I slept in parks and doorways around Circular Quay.
‘‘One night I walked past a hotdog stand in The Cross and a guy working there offered me a hotdog. I stayed for a few hours and ended up with a job. Selling hotdogs to hookers, transvestites and drunken yobbos was my first hospitality experience.”
It was an inauspicious start for a man who would go on to become a key driver of Melbourne’s booming laneway bar culture. Now the owner of four eateries and bars, including the groundbreaking Section 8, built from a shipping container dropped into a disused city car park, Maz has built a reputation as an innovator. He describes his brand as ‘‘ramshackle but sincere’’.
Maz spent his early years in Carlton, but moved to Istanbul with his father at seven after his mother died. His father taught Middle-Eastern politics at a Turkish university and Maz was transported to an ivy-clad private school overlooking the Bosphorus.
“After mum’s death, I became a handful and dad wanted to get me out of Australia,” he says.
He spent nine years travelling between Istanbul, Melbourne, Sydney and Noosa. “Dad wanted me to finish high school but I exhausted a lot of options –school didn’t gel with me,” Maz says.
At 17, he moved to Glasgow and by 21 he was back in Turkey and married. The couple moved to Melbourne. “I thought it was time to start being serious,” Maz says. He studied economics at RMIT and moved into corporate finance. But he hated it.
“One morning I was walking along St Kilda Road in my suit with an overwhelming feeling that something wasn’t right.’’
So his life underwent another seismic shift. His marriage ended, and he spent a couple of years working at beachside restaurants in Noosa.
“The hospitality world was where I was most comfortable,” he says. “From a hotdog stand to working in restaurants shucking oysters to nightclubs, there’s something about the lifestyle and camaraderie.”
In 2006, he decided to strike out on his own, investing his $15,000 savings into what is now Section 8. His shoestring budget meant he had to repurpose a shipping container as toilets.
Today, the former car park in Tattersalls Lane is a quirky and popular spot to enjoy a beer and live music. The space is decorated with street art and stacked wooden pallets serve as seating and tables.
It’s a venue for this year’s Melbourne Music Week Zoo Laneway Party, featuring live music from First Nations artist and indigenous activist Briggs.
After Section 8, Maz opened the The B.East burger bar in East Brunswick, and Ferdydurke in 2012 – the same weekend his second child arrived.
“I had a Turkish restaurant where The B.East is now. It cost a bomb and after some stress I shut it down and rebuilt. My bank balance was down to $3000 but I’ve always had this unshakeable belief that if you keep trying you will get there,” he says.
Maz describes Ferdydurke – named after a Polish novel – as a more intimate space, with a New York vibe. In 2015, he opened Belleville – a Bohemian bar inspired by a trip to Paris to see his older sister. They visited a ramshackle bar in an old warehouse, and he has tried to replicate its charm at Belleville with indoor plants, jazz, abstract murals and an unadorned industrial interior.
“There is a genuine multiculturalism in Paris,” Maz says. “Africans hanging out with Arabs, hanging out with Americans and Russians. It’s in the bars that people mingle.”
He travels regularly to check out bar and cafe culture globally – Berlin is his favourite place. Earlier this year, he did a road trip through the southern US, taking in New Orleans and Mardi Gras. “I bought the best BBQ ribs from a dude on the street in New Orleans. I had hot tamales for the first time in the home of the blues.” ●
zoo laneway party \ Section 8 and Ferdydurke will host the ZOO Laneway Party for Melbourne Music Week from 2pm on November 25.