How far should you go when rebranding your restaurant—a few minor tweaks, a complete change or just leave things as they are? By Frank Leggett
There’s a number of reasons why a restaurateur may choose to rebrand their restaurant. It could be to stay competitive, attract an expanded client base, boost low sales or to appeal to a changing market. How far that rebranding should go can be a difficult decision. Often a few minor tweaks are all that’s required but, in other cases, completely changing everything is the most financially viable option.
One of the problems with a complete change is that it can negatively impact on loyal customers. They come to your restaurant because they are familiar with the decor, the menu and the quality. When completely rebranding a restaurant, you are effectively moving your most faithful customers into a brand new space and new experience.
One owner who chose to undertake a complete change and rebrand of his restaurant was Arthur Balayannis. He has been successfully running GRK Souvlaki in Sydney’s Mascot for five years. It offers authentic Greek food with eat-in and take-out options. Balayannis also had a passive interest in Ble Restaurant at Sydney’s Ramsgate Beach but the restaurant was struggling to find its niche.
“In all honesty, Ble may have overshot the market,” says Balayannis. “It offered exceptional Greek food but clients saw it as a place for a special occasion rather than frequently returning. I think it was perceived as being a little too upmarket in an area that sees Greek dining as a bit boisterous with share tables.”
Ble shut the doors in April of this year. The premises were taken over by Balayannis and he began a complete rebranding. Ble has been transformed into GRK Meze Grill with a menu that is a mix of classic Greek meze and Athens street food. He has extended the brand that was established at GRK Souvlaki and injected it with the atmosphere of a Greek restaurant or tavern in the Plaka, Athens. GRK Meze Grill opened in July of 2019.
Whole new look
The interior has been completely re-imagined, giving the space a homely, welcoming feel with photos of old Greek personalities and celebrities on the walls. Even though the atmosphere and decor is much more casual and relaxed, old Ble clients would feel completely at home.
“It’s pretty tough in the food game. There’s no use doing the same thing over and over again—particularly if it’s not working.”
Arthur Balayannis, owner, GRK Meze Grill
“It’s pretty tough in the food game,” says Balayannis. “There’s no use doing the same thing over and over again—particularly if it’s not working. My family had a passive interest in Ble but now we are operating GRK Meze Grill as an active family business. It’s a brand-new establishment with a new menu, a new offering, a new team and a new concept. It’s really very exciting.”
On the other end of the spectrum is Marc Polese, owner and manager of Beppi’s in Sydney. An institution on Sydney’s dining scene, Beppi’s was started by Marc’s father Beppi Polese, and has been at the same location since 1956.
Over all that time, Beppi Polese was hugely influential in introducing Italian food to Australia.
The restaurant began life in a small cafe that expanded over the years into an adjacent milk bar, shop and cellar. It now seats about 120 customers.
Marc Polese has been involved with Beppi’s for all of his life, except for a 10-year stint as a veterinary surgeon in the ’80s. He has been managing the restaurant for the past five years.
“Since we’ve been here for 63 years, we’ve had to do a few small tweaks by necessity,” says Polese. “Back in the ’60s and ’70s it had red checkered tablecloths, Chianti bottles, vines over the windows, faux sandstone bricks and a fake fireplace. In the late ’80s we undertook a major refurbishment and removed all those kitsch elements but kept it cosy, warm and traditional.”
Since then, Beppi’s has had the odd coat of paint but basically stayed the same.
“Consistency is important. When someone comes to Beppi’s, there’s a certain expectation of what they’re going to eat, the feel of the interior and how they will be treated. Our job is to live up to those expectations and hopefully exceed them.”
Marc Polese, owner, Beppi’s
“Consistency is important,” says Polese. “When someone comes to Beppi’s, there’s a certain expectation of what they’re going to eat, the feel of the interior and how they will be treated. Our job is to live up to those expectations and hopefully exceed them. Clients choose to dine here for a specific type of experience.”
Beppi’s brand is entwined with being a steadfast and reliable restaurant. While that can be considered old-fashioned hospitality, Polese prefers to think of it as genuinely traditional. One drawback of such a restaurant is that it can be difficult to garner press attention when the industry is obsessed with the hip, the new and the unusual.
“I contacted the press when we were celebrating our 55th anniversary,” says Polese.
“None of the major newspapers were interested in giving us a mention, as if lasting 55 years wasn’t newsworthy.”
While a complete rebrand might be a viable option for some restaurants, Polese doesn’t see it ever happening to Beppi’s. “Despite going through some hard times over the past 63 years, Beppi’s will never dramatically change,” says Polese. “Culturally, this is who we are. I grew up here and this is what we do.”