As the accumulation of years of experience, Mud Bar & Restaurant in Tasmania is a unique reflection of its owner.
In the little town I started in there were two restaurants, and mine was one of them. When I started cooking, there was a pizza house and couple of pubs and that was it, and now there are about 40 eating places in that little town. Things are very different now. People eat out more, but the risk is greater as business is harder today. But it’s still about doing business properly. If somebody asked me what the is reason for my success, it’s that my wife’s been looking after the customers and not me.
This is my fifth restaurant in Tasmania.We have a tourism trade which goes up and down. It’s taken probably twenty or thirty years to go from 500,000 to 1.2 million tourists. And, of course, it’s taken as long to build a solid business—it takes a fair bit of ‘stick-to-activity.’ I’ve been involved in the industry for 43 years now, and it’s something I love, something I’ve always enjoyed.
I started as an apprentice in a hotel and I didn’t want to stay because to hotels you were a number and at restaurants you could affect what your customer consumed. It’s a passion for doing a good job. And doing a good job in this instance was making people happy. If you want return—people to return—you’ve got to make them happy.
My wife recently passed away, so team work is a very emotive issue for us in the restaurant. My wife was the passionate other half of our business who looked after our customers. The staff and I got together and we’re working on how we could bring together her thoughts on how she would serve and we put it all together into the sentence: Customer first every day in every way. But really that’s what we’ve been doing for the last 30 years. We have a handbook in the restaurant that’s just for our staff. It’s written by us, but it’s all about my wife Mel. The Handbook of Mel’s Way, which means the customer is the only reason we’re here. Our work culture is a genuine care for the customer in every way, and that can be clean tables, clean toilets, good service, a big smile, all those things—but it has to be genuine.
Things are very different now. People eat out more, but the risk is greater as business is harder today.
Our first business was very hands-on in St Helens. It was a hand-to-mouth business so you cook it, sell it, serve it. You had to do it all yourself, you couldn’t grow your business. In order to grow our business, we wanted to multiply by a factor of four. We moved to Launceston and opened Stillwater and later added the Black Cow. Then we sold those two businesses and we had a little rest for a year. Then we came back into probably the most premium spot in Launceston, right on the water. Mud Bar really is a much bigger business than Stillwater and the Black Cow, so it really brings together all of those restaurants. The overriding thing that I would have taken from each of these stages is quality. Quality product, quality service, quality process—in other words, in the cooking process there should be no shortcuts.
If you’re going to have success in the business you’ve got to be as generous as you can. I am as generous as I can be with my staff. I’m as generous as I can with the customer. You need to be generous. I created the environment and have injected into the staff the culture that was my wife and myself. Quality food, quality service, customer first all the time and it creates a feeling with the staff. Working on a staff culture is a day-to-day, second-by-second thing. We do a good job and I can taste it and I love it. It’s right and I’m really excited by that.