Terry Soukoulis, 41, is owner/operator of in Adelaide’s CBD. Here, he reveals how a trip to Greece at the age of 13 sealed his career path, and how customer criticism always cuts to the bone.
I was 10 when Dad passed away and a couple of years later Mum, Maria, took my twin brother Steven and me to Greece to see where they’d come from. All my relatives were in tourism and hospitality. I was at an age where I was open-eyed, you’ve just discovered girls, all my cousins had bars and restaurants and were having a lot of fun. One day my cousin said, ‘Come here every day and I’ll show you how to make coffee’. That was it. I was enamoured by the whole industry.
I loved when we had visitors at home—it was all about the food, and every time Mum cooked, I was standing near her and asking questions. She blames herself because she never wanted me to be in this industry.
After studying hospitality I did a six-month placement at Jimmy Watson’s in Pirie Street in Adelaide and that was my first foray into fine dining. You felt like you were watching a movie from the ’60s, with people coming in dressed immaculately. You would say something corny, but then you learnt how to do it properly. I was a water boy and I watched all the wine waiters. I learnt how important it is to take time to learn your craft.
In a small business sometimes it’s hard to keep the necessary emotional distance between being an owner and a friend. I learnt that I had to be honest with myself and understand that there is less room for sentimentality in business. I also realised that being honest and truthful about staff performance, and clearly defining operating standards, was more beneficial to the entire operation than trying to be diplomatic.
I bought Àuge in 2003 from Eugene Maiale … it was almost like a lost cause. I love lost causes. The business initially had some financial troubles. I was a completely naive 28-year-old and I thought ‘I can do this’. My ego took a massive hit—I bit off more than I could chew. It was one of the hardest times.
The dining room here is an extension of my living room, so when you come here it’s almost like you are coming to my house. That’s how I feel about restaurants, so if you don’t like it, I really take it personally. It’s almost like you’re snapping me in half when you say you don’t like it. You know if you have a dinner party and one person says they didn’t like something—that’s crushing. That happens every day of our lives. Sure, you can deal with it, but ultimately it still hurts.
Empowering staff and utilising the varied skills of all staff to achieve success is something I really enjoy.
The one thing I could change about my role is to restructure it so that I can step away a bit more. You do have managers but you always think that you can do it better than someone else. But that means you don’t have time to have a day where you can just do your thing; you’re constantly putting out fires. That’s the one thing I dislike about being an owner.
I love having structure to my day and I try to be very organised for service periods. Communication is paramount to achieving success in any business and I enjoy taking the time to exchange ideas with our team. Empowering staff and utilising the varied skills of all staff to achieve success is something I really enjoy.
I think fulfilling your duties required by the business to the best of your ability at all times is paramount, but spending time away from the business is equally important. It gives you the opportunity to recharge the batteries and spend time with loved ones and family, but it also gives you time to consider solutions to problems you may have had in the operations of the business.
I’m a people person and I love pleasing people. It’s innate. We are in hospitality to be hospitable—that means doing anything and everything possible to make your guests happy. If you don’t feel comfortable or don’t have the empathy to do such a simple thing like this, then perhaps hospitality isn’t the right vocation for you.
There are times when I think ‘I could go and find another job, get paid better and do half the hours’, but then all it takes is one smile from a customer, or a pat on the back, and you melt again and you get drawn back in. It’s like a narcotic.