The owner of Cha Cha Char and Jellyfish has found educating himself and his customers makes for good business
The choice was to either go onto the family property or buy a cash flow business likes a restaurant where there was no threat of a drought.
Giardinetto was an established restaurant with a strong cash flow. It was purchased from an Italian family who served the Italian food they thought Australians liked, while staff meals were authentic Italian dishes. This was an opportunity to introduce Australians to authentic Italian food.
Initially the staff managed me instead of me managing them. So I brought out a chef from Maxine’s in France for one year to teach me to cook. I learnt to understand food, ingredients and develop my palate. Now I don’t get intimidated by chefs or staff.
To this day I regularly inspect all fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and produce and often return substandard product. In the restaurant industry, near enough is not good enough.
Staff have to be comfortable in their work environment. I’ve owned seven pubs. Some were rough and some were yuppie. I moved managers around because I thought I would get diversity. But the manager from the yuppie hotel would lock himself in the cold room of the rough hotel and do stock takes, and the manger from the rough hotel was never on the floor.
The Wanganui River Gardens Function Centre taught me a new lesson. A sale missed today is one you will not get tomorrow. It’s all about follow up: return enquiries within 24 hours and have an open line outside of business hours to address any queries.
The reason I decided to specialise in beef and steak at Cha Cha Char was in all my restaurants the most complaints came back about the steak. So I also thought if I did that well I’d make a lot of dollars.
There was no meat grading system in Australia. So I went off to learn how to be a beef and cattle judge. I found the supply of meat to be inconsistent because once the animal left the farmer’s gate he was no longer accountable. We began putting the producer’s name, animal description and whether it was grass or grain fed on our menu. So they made sure they supplied us with their best produce.
“Every day we make the staff sample the products. The enthusiasm for a dish or a product a staff member likes results in them selling more of that product.”
To make customers’ decisions easier on how they wanted their meat cooked, I put a pole in the middle of the restaurant with visual cues of ‘doneness’ from ‘rare’ to ‘well-done’. That pole is now a standard.
Every day we make the staff sample the products. The enthusiasm for a dish or a product a staff member likes results in them selling more of that product.
Then I got tired of eating inconsistent fish. That’s when the idea for Jellyfish came about. I applied the same rules to fish as I did to meat in Char. The same effort has been put into sourcing between eight and 14 fresh varieties daily.
Before I open a restaurant I observe every lunch and dinner hour for at least a month at the proposed site. I see what the passing traffic is and what businesses are there. You have to know the product and the people. At Char we were consistent with stockbrokers and miners. When the market softened last November we did a big marketing campaign with surgeons, barristers and solicitors to fill the gap.
In all my businesses I develop young managers, who can communicate and develop a rapport with the customers. I sometimes observe restaurant owners who develop a rapport with a customer based around a similar age who eventually retires, leaving a huge gap within the clientele.
If the owner is not consistently out in the marketplace observing new food products, restaurants and menu trends, then bringing this information back to his staff, the restaurant will stay in a time warp. I encourage staff to dine out and observe trends so we can workshop ideas and remain as leaders of the industry.