Running a restaurant takes passion, drive, smarts and a lot of long often unsociable hours.
We sat down with Guiliano Lo Po, co-owner and manager of Piccola Baia, a buzzing, beach-side, Italian cafe in Little Bay and asked, why he's made food his business.
THE HUB: What’s your history in hospitality?
GUILIANO: I come from Sicily and I’ve worked in hospitality since I was 16, starting in the kitchen of a little pizzeria in a five star hotel in Taormina.
Twenty two years ago I came to Australia with a dream to one day have my own café.
THE HUB: What inspired you to open Piccola Baia?
GUILIANO: While I was managing Ill Caminetto (an Italian restaurant in The Rocks) I met Stefano, my current business partner and head chef here at Piccola Baia.
We had the idea to open our own place.
Our experience and personalities were a good fit and we love food - home cooked Tuscan-style food.
THE HUB: Why did you choose Little Bay as your location?
GUILIANO: Easy - the beach! In Sicily I could see the beach from the balcony of my house where I grew up.
I loved it. And just look at Little Bay, it’s beautiful - it feels like a piece of home to me.
THE HUB: What kind of marketing has been most effective for you?
GUILIANO: Little Bay and Malabar are small communities, so word of mouth helped a lot.
We also try things like Instagram, Facebook and we built a website, all that, but word of mouth is the best.
Also TripAdvisor - we are ranked at the top of restaurants for this area so we get tourists as well as locals who use that.
THE HUB: What other factors have also been key to your success?
GUILIANO: I studied the area to see what was already being offered and saw a gap in the market for an Italian-style café/ restaurant.
The café serves up Aussie style breakfasts and lunch but then turns towards a classic trattoria-style Italian menu in the evening.
Having limited competition gives us a competitive edge.
Great food is a must, of course, but so is great customer service - be happy and helpful and people will warm to you.
THE HUB: What trends are you noticing in the industry now?
GUILIANO - For us, coffee is one. So many people love coffee. We used to go through 6kgs a week of it when we started (in 2015); now we use 36kgs!
When people find good coffee they will travel at least a couple of kilometres to get it.
Also, we saw a trend towards Naopli-style pizzas (softer crust) in the city and tried to mirror that, but the clientele out here prefer Roma-style (crispier crust), so we adapted.
Vegan and gluten-free options are also popular now.
THE HUB: What advice would you give to someone wanting to open a food-based business?
GUILIANO: Choose a great location and love what you do. It’s very stressful, long hours and hard work.
You must be passionate about it or you won’t survive. Also, understand and standout from your competition. Keep your eye on trends. And keep your staff happy and motivated.
THE HUB: Are there any other lessons you’ve learned along the way that you could share with us?
GUILIANO: If I could do it all over again, I would bill ourselves as a 'café/ pizzeria' rather than a 'café/ restaurant'.
The former is a good combination, whereas the latter is a bit of a logistical nightmare.
You’re really running two different businesses at the same time.
THE HUB: If you had to choose one dish from your menu that captures what Piccola Baia is all about, what would it be?
GUILIANO: The Beef Cheeks. It’s local beef, slow cooked, with great energy and Tuscan flavour.
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