Greg Anderson says his decision to move out of the kitchen was one of the best he ever made. It allowed him to focus on the management side of things and turn his restaurant Sails on Lavender Bay, on Sydney’s North Shore, into an award-winning waterfront establishment. By Frank Leggett
“I travelled when I left school and worked at restaurants around the world. I was just washing dishes in the early stages but I really wanted to move up the ranks.
“When I returned at the age of 19 [in 1998], I did an apprenticeship under Matt Moran. I wanted to work with someone exceptional and during this time, I was part of the opening team at Aria. After that, I moved to another restaurant where I worked as a sous chef—but I still had a passion for travel.
“I spent a few years working on super yachts as a chef which allowed me to travel around the world. During that time, I learnt that you have to be able to tailor cooking to the product. I also got to experience different styles of cooking. I saw how they cook things in little tapas bars in Spain, how the French make their crème brulées and how the Americans in New England boil their lobsters. It’s all very different.
“I opened my first restaurant in 2005 in Pyrmont but when the financial crisis hit around 2008, I decided to make the transition from being a chef to being a business manager. As I had no idea about the financial side of things, I completed a commerce degree majoring in business law by correspondence. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done.
“When you start cooking and doing an apprenticeship, no-one teaches you about employment law, contract law, duty of care, legal liabilities, cash flow, balance sheets, forecasting or budgeting. When you run a restaurant, you need to be going over the figures and analysing them correctly while staying abreast of current trends. That’s the key to running a successful restaurant.
“When you start cooking and doing an apprenticeship, no-one teaches you about employment law, contract law, duty of care, legal liabilities, cash flow, balance sheets, forecasting or budgeting.”
“From a business point of view, you need to make hard decisions but if you’re a chef, you often can’t make those decisions. It’s not that a chef/owner needs to have a degree—you just need to hire someone who does. There are many restaurant consultants who have this experience.
“We [Anderson with partner/co-owner Patricia Nunes] bought Sails on Lavender Bay right in the middle of the financial crisis. It was such an amazing price and such a great location that we couldn’t say no.
“Our next project is The Shore Club, a three-level venue in Manly. We have some investors on board but there are a lot of council approvals to go through. Most of our clients are from the North Shore area so opening in Manly is a natural progression for us. We know our customers very well so we give them what they want. We’ll also get the tourist market which helps minimise our risk.
“A good tip when hiring is not to panic when you can’t find staff or you’ll end up with the wrong people. We’re lucky to be able to call on friends or find a way to get through with the people we know. It’s much better to be stretched than to have the wrong person in place. That’s the quickest way to destroy your business.
“Sails has a staff of 22 which includes a head chef, head manager and assistants. We really look after our top-level managers as it fosters loyalty. We took two of our team to New York last year on an eating trip. They’ve both been with us for seven years and while we pay them really well, we also wanted to show how much we appreciate them.
“We always look at the R&CA Awards as the customer awards or ‘people awards’ because they’re not based on new fads. They’re judged on what the customer wants—are your bathrooms clean, do you have appropriate linen for your restaurant, are the chairs comfortable? It rewards establishments that customers really like. We won our first national award last year for Contemporary Australian Restaurant—Formal. That was our first national win, but when we scored the second award—Restaurant Caterer—that was the icing on the cake and a great achievement.”