The general manager of Sfera’s Park Suites & Convention Centre and Sfera’s Gourmet Express in Adelaide is proof that innovation, consistency and resilience are all key to long-term success
I was surrounded by great food as a way of life in my family. Mum and Dad had a small gourmet food shop in Sydney and I helped out there. At 16 I was filleting chickens, as well as some basic food preparation. My grandfather loved to cook, so I watched him make traditional Neapolitan pasta like schiaffoni and make unique dishes like pickled eels. My Calabrian grandmother made pasta from scratch and she grew eggplant, capsicum, figs, peppers, tomatoes—everything! They had about 20 types of fruit and veg, they made their own wine and pasta sauce, and had chickens. It’s in these early days I gained my appreciation for organic, quality food, as well as the importance of a good work ethic.
After school I studied hotel management with some culinary qualifications. I worked in five-star hotels in Sydney and Queensland. Aside from the restaurant and bar experience, I learnt how important planning is to successful function and event management, the importance of contingency planning, and that you can never be too prepared. One time, working in North Queensland, the heavens opened up and drenched a function. It’s just one example of many symbolic work stories I have imbedded in my mind—that you learn to take responsibility. You may feel you were unlucky when, in reality, you perhaps weren’t prepared.
In 1998 I opened Sfera’s on the Park Function Centre and in 2002 we took over the old Modbury school and converted it into 1877 Restaurant. I also started SITE Academy, a hospitality and event management registered training organisation that evolved to training over 700 students a year.
Running my own business taught me the importance of developing and implementing consistent policies. We had multiple businesses and the lack of due process and consistent deliverables was a big problem early on. I opened an industry-based training organisation, but employed people who all came from different backgrounds and had different standards, so this was my first real appreciation of standardisation and consistency in hospitality.
In 2004, we extended the existing convention centre into one of South Australia’s largest privately owned convention centres, catering for up to 900 people. I was one of the first to offer all-inclusive wedding packages, from ceremony to reception, photographer, DJ, accommodation and entertainment. The centre pulls the whole lot together. Innovation has, and always will be, a great motivator for me, taking a risk and doing something no-one else has tried and making it work. However, what motivates me now is different to 10 years ago, so the goal posts have changed. I’m more into food nutrition now and I’ve gone back to studying nutrition. I started a new division of healthy ready meals and I can see my future career decisions being heavily influenced by this.
I believe you need to continue learning and innovating to grow and remain successful. I’m learning every day, I have an open mind, I’m not scared to try new things. We have recently transformed the restaurant from formal Italian dining to 1877 Pasta & Wine Bar, as frequent casual dining is more on-trend.
I’ve learnt you need passion combined with a capacity to consistently deliver a quality product—or even over-deliver. Ideally, you need to ensure you have a strong profit model, one that’s not reliant on one or a few individuals and one that can change with market trends. You also need to be able to take calculated risks and innovate.