SHANE WARNE, TERRY DURACK AND PORTRAITS OF DUCKS

Gregory has been asked to be a panel member at Food Service Magazine’s Masterclass about owning a cafe or a restaurant and you can buy your tickets here.

I am not at all offended that they didn’t ask me – perhaps they think we’re Jekyll and Hyde, or Bonnie and Clyde, or Torvill and Dean, or Fred and Ginger. Actually, that’s just me wanting to be Fred and Ginger. Well, Ginger. Obviously.

The point being, I don’t feel slighted by not being asked, but I think I’d have some good things to say if they had done. So I’m going to say them here for you right now. I’m going to interview myself.

So Naomi, what made you open a restaurant?

My husband. I always said I’d help him open his own place, I think it was in our marriage vows.

Where did you get such an incredible opening staff?

Well, Gregory got most of his recruits from Wildfire where he had worked for a bit before quitting to plan the opening. I roped in anyone I could find – a guy I went through music school with, who used to serenade birthday guests in a no-joke counter tenor that just about cracked the champagne glasses, and a girlfriend of mine who is a social worker, but graciously gave us a couple of her nights per week till we got on our feet. It was she, in fact, who waited on Terry Durack and I like to think he found her lack of pretension and kowtowing refreshing, even if it was on account of not quite knowing who he was.

Why is lighting for a fit-out always the most annoying aspect of the entire project?

I really have no clue, but if you’re looking to open a restaurant or a bar, or even if you’re just redoing your dining room chandelier, order that shit now because it doesn’t matter how preemptively you order it, it will either get lost, be broken when it gets here, be in stock then two weeks later out of stock even though they accepted your order and took your money, or come quite literally from the furthermost point on the earth by a vessel that moves slower than a Galapagos Tortoise. And when it does finally all arrive and you’ve gotten the replacements for the 7 bulbs that were shipped in nothing more than a cardboard box, it then takes the sparky half a week to get it all installed and happening just as the designer ordered.

Lighting is a total nightmare and you should just use candles instead.

How much say do you have in the menu?

None really. And that’s actually for the best. I cannot imagine what rutabaga puree with pepper powder and fennel pollen ice cream really will taste like altogether, particularly at 2am when the muses strike and Gregory asks my opinion. I’m good on things like ‘that dish takes too long and slows down the service in the dining room,’ or ‘I know you’re sick of cooking it, but the guests love it, so there it stays.’ I always listen, but I rarely offer any enlightenment. I’m like an irritating therapist that makes you work out your problems yourself.

How important are budgets, projections and costings?

Very.

Could you elaborate please?

When we were in the planing stages, a few well-meaning friends passed along a few books on business and entrepreneurship and I read them late at night when I couldn’t handle trying to discover where the missing lights were any longer. The one thing they (and all the online stuff I read) have in common is data. What do your numbers say? Is this really sustainable? Are you spending what you think you’re spending? Are you making what you think you’re making? Can you cover every single cost you can think of and another 10% for the ones you’ve forgotten or didn’t know about?

I was very lucky that Gregory had run kitchens for years before this, so he was pretty savvy in this regard. Left to me, I would have sweated a lot and had lots of fights with excel spreadsheets. I know they bring great joy to some, but to me, they’re a form of modern day torture.

Would you say the opening months of the restaurant when you lived on $250 a week, above the restaurant, worked every night on the floor then did bookwork and reservations till 2, then got up at 530 with the baby, then got pregnant again with your second, were better or worse than the time you lived as an actor in NYC on W79th and Columbus, in a room so small your microwave sat on your chest of drawers at the end of your bed and you cut your veggies sitting cross-legged on the floor, where the sink fell off the wall and the neighbour’s bed bugs infiltrated your room and bit you so red raw they had to move you to another room?

Hmmm. Tough call. Cosmetically speaking, my hair started to fall out after the first 6 months of Hartsyard, my nails had stopped growing too and I developed ‘stress eczema’ on my face which was really quite unfortunate.

If I failed in NYC, I only had to take care of myself, now we had created another human and incurred quite a debt, both of which would need attending to, no matter how the restaurant went. So I’d say the opening of the restaurant was worse, but only just. Those bed bugs were real arseholes.

What do you wish you had known then that you know now?

There is not enough room in this blog for me to answer that question. As one brother kept saying to me ‘you wouldn’t learn this in an MBA.’

Is it true you told Gregory he couldn’t get anymore tattoos?

Yes.

But here’s why.

We had met other hospo folk through the restaurant, so Gregory was back hanging with his tattooed bruthas, who frequently added to their ink. But 3 years ago, Gregory’s body paintings were already at least 15 years old and faded and receding, just like his hairline. Adding to them now seemed a little too Shane Warne for me.

What was one of the magic moments you had in those opening few months?

We had many. Many.

People were generous and loving and supportive and encouraging and carefully hid any concern they really had for what we were trying to do.

There are two incidents I’ve never forgotten.

One was a friend who has four children (two with her part-time and the other two with her full-time), she also works, runs her household and is a busy performer amongst it all. And yet, whenever we met up in a park to thrash our youngest children till they slept, slept, slept, she would bring with her a pile of frozen meals. Delicious frozen dinners. Not dodgy ones you wonder why you bothered freezing in the first place, but actually really yummy dinners. Thank you Vic, you are tremendous.

The other was when a man who quickly became a regular brought us in a gift. We had been sent a model duck by one of our friends back at the restaurant we met at in NYC, and this gent (named Michael) painted in his spare time and had done a portrait of our duck. It was so quirky and so kind. We were both incredibly touched.

And that will be the end of my interview.

If you’re looking for slightly more edifying information, head on over to the site and get yourself a ticket.

If I answered all your questions and changed your world…well, I am not surprised. My advice about tattooing is sound.

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