Collaborate and listen

Pinelli Estate winery.

Pinelli Estate winery.

Sharing space with the right business could deliver a whole new clientele to your venue. Tracey Laity reports

A new wave of industry leaders has discovered that when it comes to maximising the potential of their businesses, it really pays to think outside the box—or, more specifically, beyond the limits of their own four walls.

By sharing space with a like-minded venture that has a product, aesthetic or goal that complements their own, these innovators have increased their exposure, expanded their clientele and boosted their income during trying economic times.

All it takes is a little imagination—and a lot of give and take—to make a collaboration work. But if you are not operating on a basis of mutual respect, do not even attempt to embark on such a potentially risky enterprise, warns Manu Fillaudeau, chef and owner of Fillaudeau’s Café Restaurant in Western Australia’s Swan Valley.

He and his wife Jasmin have been leasing a repurposed building on the grounds of the Pinelli Estate winery for three-and-a-half years now and their modern take on French fare and fine dining has drawn a formidable following of loyal customers.

“If you want to work with, or be next to, another business, you’d better have a very good relationship or you might as well forget about it,” he says. “We have a very good relationship with our landlord; they have given us so much support and help. They really wanted to have someone in the building on their property, but we had absolutely no money. We had to build the restaurant up bit by bit.”

Getting the business off the ground was a “bit of a nightmare” at first, admits Fillaudeau, while he and Jasmin tried to fine-tune the menu, work out pricings, adapt the building environment and recruit reliable and committed wait staff. But they had immediately felt the benefit of having a fully equipped kitchen (“the rent included the ice-machine, the dishwasher, freezer, even the tables and chairs”), the winery’s ample parking spaces, its beautiful vistas, and the support of local producers who wanted their meat, fish, fruit and greens to feature on the menu.

With the groundwork painstakingly put in place, the business rapidly gained momentum and the restaurant praise from critics. Fillaudeau and Jasmin’s success has been reflected in a swag of accolades, notably the award for Gourmet Traveller Wine’s Best Food in a Cellar Door and its inclusion in a shortlist for a Savour Australia Restaurant & Catering HOSTPLUS Awards for Excellence this year. And Daniel Pinelli couldn’t be happier.

“We’re delighted that Fillaudeau’s has been so successful in such a short period of time,” says Pinelli. “Our family has been involved in winemaking for 35 years, and as the industry has changed, we realised we needed to have a food offering at our estate. But instead of attempting to do it ourselves, we decided to leave it to the professionals—to those with the expertise. It’s very important to have a tenant who shares the same high standards as you, and it’s really important to ask others in the food industry for advice when making your final selection.”

But a business collaboration doesn’t necessarily need four walls or even bricks and mortar to succeed. In fact, the under-utilised space in your own backyard could be enough. Two years ago, Core Cider House co-owner Emily Lyons looked across the rolling green lawns of her husband’s cidery (which has also been shortlisted for a Savour Australia Restaurant & Catering HOSTPLUS Awards for Excellence this year) in WA’s Bickley Valley, and saw an opportunity to offer patrons something unique during the popular Sunday afternoon sessions—what would later be dubbed ‘pizza on the green’.

All Lyons needed was a reliable, trustworthy like-minded collaborator. In stepped Jake Young of J’s Wood-fired Pizza. His fire-engine-red food truck, a fully equipped commercial kitchen on wheels complete with a huge wood-fired oven that has to be attached to the rear of the vehicle with the help of a crane, soon became a familiar sight at Core Cider House during the busy summer months.

“He really helps relieve the pressure on our kitchen during those hectic summer afternoons,” explains Lyons. “We actually rebuilt our kitchen recently. It’s about four times the size of our old one but we still don’t have room for a wood-fired oven. And J’s truck is really flash. His service is very slick and professional. People are drawn to him and his truck and he adds to the festive atmosphere.”

Lyons admits there were initial teething problems to overcome (“Turns out our property is on a slope—that was a bit of an issue at the beginning. And, of course, in the height of summer, when there’s a total fire ban on, we can’t have J cooking out the back.”), but their collaboration has moved from strength to strength.

Young soon realised that many of the cidery’s patrons were gluten-intolerant so he created a gluten-free pizza base, as an option for all toppings, well as a signature chicken, pear and rocket topping in tribute to the fruit grown on the property.

“Pizzas are very simple,” says Young, who works the wood-fired oven while his wife Hanae runs the kitchen, “but I put a lot of passion into them. I make them how I think they should be, how I would want to eat them. I don’t cut corners and I think people have responded to that. I’ve had a lot of positive feedback.

“Working with Emily at Core Cider House has given us a lot of exposure. We’ve had a lot of customers come to us, asking us to cater for their parties, weddings and events. The business has built up slow and steady. It takes time for people to get to know you and your products. But word has definitely gotten around.”

Lyons and Young are already making plans to add a small dessert item to the food truck menu, perhaps a chocolate and pear dessert or something with apples. When asked what is the key to a lasting and fruitful collaboration, Lyons responds: “It takes a lot of give and take between both parties. You both have to be committed to important things such as quality and service. And you’ve got to have a generosity of spirit. You won’t get very far without that.”

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