Seafood has always been a passion of mine. My grandfather was a seafaring captain in Kastellorizo, Greece, and my father followed in his footsteps when he migrated to Australia. I grew up watching my father trawling the harbour of Sydney then selling his products at the Fish Market at Haymarket and Paddy’s Market.
The best part of my day is still partaking in the auctions at the [Sydney] Fish Markets, and then receiving the deliveries straight from the Fish Market floor or off our own boats–there is nothing quite like the delivery of 250kg of live lobsters first thing in the morning!
I opened my first restaurant the Cyren while I was in the wholesale seafood business with my father. I used it as a way to showcase to the chefs and hoteliers that I was supplying new and different products that had not been seen in Sydney at that time. The Cyren introduced products such as mussels, octopus, calamari and flathead fillets which were regarded as a poor man’s delicacy at the time.
My beliefs and formula are simple: you need a superior product, and freshness and quality in our offering is key; a premium location—in our case waterfront; knowledgeable service; relationships with quality suppliers; and a simple presentation that showcases the quality, flavours, freshness and uniqueness of the product.
I have used this formula in all of my restaurants. I have stayed true to myself and am not a trendsetter or a follower. I do what I do and it works: Nick’s Seafood has been in operation now for more than 14 years and in that time we have added to it Nick’s Bar and Grill, I’m Angus Steakhouse, Adria Bar Restaurant, Stacks Taverna and Cyren Bar Grill Seafood. Consistency and control is key. The challenge lies in ensuring each venue has its own identity and the offerings in each venue are all different, but at the same standard. Darling Harbour attracts both local Sydneysiders and tourists alike and they come from all walks of life so the offering needs to accommodate all of our customers.
New Year’s Eve is a major event for us and planning begins half way through the year when we get together with our chefs from each restaurant to start discussing menu items and what we would like to offer. We try to make each year different from the last, as we often have regulars celebrating with us in our venues year after year. That’s the fun part, the interaction with the chefs, the discussions around fish varieties, plating options, garnishing, sauces, the combination of products in new and different ways, and the different palates of those at our tasting table, often making for lively debates!
I am fortunate to have quality people working with me: my executive chefs and their loyal teams, managers, creative minds in our marketing and sales team. There’s my immediate management team: general manager of the Nick’s Restaurant and Bar Group, James Makarewicz, who has been with me for 14 years; general manager of operations and finance, Margaret Staples, who joined me in my first weeks of opening Nick’s Seafood; and my children, Peter, George and Yvette Manettas—that’s the family and that’s how we operate.
Making sure that the restaurants are current and relevant in the market is a constant challenge and always a work in progress. We have recently refurbished and reinvented our menu at I’m Angus Steakhouse; Nick’s Seafood has undergone a refurbishment and new products have been added to the menu. We are constantly introducing new products, meals, cocktail creations in an effort to keep our loyal customer base interested and engaged and ultimately enjoying their experiences with us.
To be successful, you need to focus on what you know and what you are good at. Don’t depart from that and get caught up in the most recent of trends—the wave only lasts as long as it takes for a new trend to take hold. Stay true to yourself and your offering. And make sure you have a solid relationship with your landlords.