Despite language issues and major health crises, Alessandro and Anna Pavoni have turned one Sydney harbour restaurant into a four-venue success story. By Frank Leggett
Alessandro: I’ve spent the past 29 years in and around kitchens. At the age of 16, I attended chef’s school in Lombardy and spent the summer holidays and weekends working in a variety of restaurants. My career began in the famous Carlo Magno in Brescia and I went on to work in a number of Michelin-starred restaurants such as La Rotonde in France and Villa Fiordaliso on Lake Garda. In 2003, I decided to move to Sydney.
I wanted to learn English but England is too cold. Australia was my first choice because of its beaches and beautiful weather. I wanted to work on Sydney’s Northern Beaches but it was very difficult due to my lack of English. I ended up on Norton Street in Leichhardt where Italian was spoken everywhere. Then I met Anna and that was my real inspiration to start learning English.
Anna: I was working the front of house in a restaurant in Leichhardt and we met by knowing a lot of the same people. Alessandro’s English improved rapidly over the following few months and we travelled to Europe together. When we returned to Sydney, Alessandro worked his way up to become executive chef at the Park Hyatt in 2005, managing more than 30 chefs, and I got a job as Training and Development Manager with Bavarian Hospitality Group (now Rockpool Dining Group).
Alessandro: My experiences working in Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe really helped me in that position. The Park Hyatt also sent me to work in South America and Asia. I had a contract in my hand to start as executive chef in the Grand Hyatt, Hong Kong, when I suffered a heart attack. I had also survived cancer as a teenager and I radically reassessed my priorities. I didn’t want to live in Hong Kong with a heart condition; I wanted to stay in Australia.
Anna: In order to have less stress in his life, Alessandro decided to buy a restaurant! This was the start of Ormeggio At The Spit. I think that we, like a lot of people, went into business without really understanding how much work is involved. We soon discovered the truth of the situation. Luckily, we had plenty of industry experience and a strong foundation of hard work.
“We work with very good people. They all have a passion and a love of what they do. As we’ve grown, staffing has become less problematic as the good people we employ attract other good people.”
Alessandro: Ormeggio At The Spit was soon followed by our other businesses: Chiosco by Ormeggio, a relaxed trattoria also at the Spit; Via Alta, a neighbourhood restaurant in Willoughby; and Sotto Sopra, a wood-fired trattoria in Newport. Fortunately, Anna and I are active people who thrive under pressure. With four restaurants, four teams of staff and four head chefs, I find my position as executive chef of the four venues very challenging but very satisfying.
I think our success is due to our uncompromising quality of produce and service. Anna is our accountant and having a tight control on the financials is essential. We go over our accounts on a weekly basis and if things are going wrong, I know within seven days. We hold regular meetings with the staff and look for immediate answers to problems. We are willing to adjust our menus and procedures if it is needed.
Anna: I always say that I work on the business and not in the business. When we started, it was just myself and an assistant in the office, and we looked after everything—events, reservations, accounts, marketing. Now I’ve got a great team working with me. Everything comes through that one office. At present, Alessandro and I are busier than ever, particularly with our children, two-and-a-half-year-old Jada and one-year-old Luca. We would like to keep expanding the business and we are very enthusiastic about new technologies, new concepts and new venues.
Alessandro: We work with very good people. They all have a passion and a love of what they do. As we’ve grown, staffing has become less problematic as the good people we employ attract other good people. For us, our staff is paramount to the success of the operation. They are on the front line, interacting with customers and ultimately responsible for the impression that customers take home with them.
Anna: We’ve also been fortunate to have good media and industry support. We respect our staff and are supportive of our competition. Giovanni Pilu and Marilyn Annecchini who own and run Pilu at Freshwater Beach are our best friends and godparents to our son. They would also be considered our biggest competitor. However, we prefer to think of ourselves as part of something bigger and happily share knowledge with other industry folk. We’re all in this together.