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Mentor Profiles

The Message – Kate Bartholomew

By Max Olijnyk, Broadsheet

"The way a space looks plays a big role in attracting the crowd you want." General manager and co-owner of Coda and Tonka, Kate Bartholomew offers her insight into the importance of getting the interior design of a venue right.

Working in hospitality was always supposed to be a means to an end for Kate Batholomew; some extra pocket money while she was at high school, then it became a way to pay the bills while she was at university. "Hospitality got me through my degree," says Bartholomew. "I've always loved food and working in the industry meant I could continue studying and do what I loved on the side."

Through work, she met now husband and business partner Mykal. His passion for working with food gave Bartholomew the courage to take a year off from her studies, take a leap of faith, and open a restaurant with him. "I was writing a thesis and I needed a break, so I thought I'd just work for a year," says Bartholomew. "We found my dream location and then we started looking for a chef and found Adam (D'Sylva)," she says. "I feel incredibly lucky."

Bartholomew always had a passion for interior design but admits, "I don't think I really knew or understood anything about it." Working on Coda offered her the opportunity to collect notes and work alongside innovative local design studio Projects of Imagination to create a sleek, distinctive space. "I had some strong ideas for Coda, but Projects of Imagination were amazing. They did that job on very little money. It was incredible," she says.

Taking the skills and confidence she learned from their first (very successful) venture, Bartholomew was ready to "take more of a front seat" in the design process for the trio's second venue, the modern-Indian restaurant Tonka. "I started to trust more of my own decisions and felt much more comfortable," says Bartholomew. Tonka opened early in 2013 to instant acclaim, not least for its elegant interior, which boasts, among other things, a dramatic ceiling art installation by Naomi Troski.

Reflecting on what makes a space work, Bartholomew says, "I suppose the ceiling has been a point of difference. I like doing custom things and making it our own." She's been acting as a mentor for Andrew Kelly, the recipient of The Keys as he works towards opening Filter, an innovative new CBD cafe. After visiting the site for Filter late last year, Bartholomew met with Kelly again recently to look over plans for the new venue at Design Office in Collingwood. The results can be seen in the latest instalment of The Keys video series, The Fit Out. "I was really impressed," says Bartholomew of the models and colour swatches for the new venue. "It was soft and lovely but still strong for the city."

"I think Design Office has done a really good job interpreting Andrew's vision," she says, before adding, "so good, in fact, that we're looking at them for a new project." Watch this space.

Kate's top tips for getting your venue's interior and fit-out right

1. Big budget isn't always best
You don't need a lot of money to do something really cool. The best things are done with just a creative mind.

2. Find the right designer
I think it's really important to invest money in an interior designer. Spend some time looking into spaces you enjoy and find out who was responsible for their look.

3. Function over fashion
It's got to be as practical as it is enjoyable to look at. I could kick myself every day for some things I thought looked good, but now they drive me mental.

4. Don't be scared of colour
The problem with white is you need to keep it clean. Colour brings warmth and energy to a space. I really like the idea of picking between one and three colours and using them as small accents throughout a space.

5. Find a good builder
Build a good relationship early and try and hold onto it for as long as possible. Always keep track of things with emails. So many times we've come to the end of a project and said ‘who said what about this?' You have to keep a record of it all.

6. Don't change your mind!
It slows the process down and costs a fortune. Make decisions and stand by them.

7. Opening dates and budgets
There are so many things that are out of your control and that you would never have imagined that you would need to think about. Be realistic. Allow for double the time and the money you originally planned.

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The Message – Chris Lucas

Chris Lucas

By Max Olijnyk, Broadsheet

The father of Baby and Chin Chin talks branding, creative use of social media and the importance of a name with Max Olijnyk.

As the brain behind some of the most popular and distinctive restaurants in Melbourne, Chris Lucas knows a thing or two about building a brand. The restaurateur's venues – Chin Chin on Flinders Lane and Baby pizzeria in Richmond – are known almost as much for their party atmosphere and cheeky online presence as their food. But as Lucas explains, the recipe for his success isn't that complicated, but a matter of deciding on the type of customers they want to attract, then working backwards.

"We don't do any in-depth study, it's more anecdotal," says Lucas of the planning process behind a new venue, "but we do try to keep in mind the demographic we're targeting - that's just sort of logical." Once a direction has been decided on, the real work begins – staffing, menus, fit-out, graphic design – but Lucas believes that promoting a venue can begin long before the doors open for trading, even before settling on a name. "Some people spend a year trying to come up with a name," he says. "It's not that important. Once it's out in the marketplace, people get comfortable with it." Both Chin Chin and Baby use social media extensively, daily updates on specials as well as regular video content including tongue-in-cheek ‘Chef Wars' between cooks from the two restaurants. As much as he uses it to his advantage, Lucas is quick to point out that without a good product, all the Facebook updates in the world won't help your brand. "I don't think social media is this magic wand that everyone keeps talking about," he says. "It's just like any form of advertising. You've got to know what you're doing and the message behind it has to be strong."

Lucas' restaurant family is about to welcome a new member – the Korean BBQ joint Kong, which is set to open in March. The word of Kong's imminent arrival spread like wildfire months ago, building anticipation that is more akin to a new album release from a hot indie band than a place to go out for dinner. As well as putting the word out through various media outlets and his social media channels, Lucas has been using his existing venues to build the hype for Kong. "We've been running a bunch of really cool short films on the movie wall outside Chin Chin based on K-pop and the coming of Kong," he says, "so people who have been coming in get a double whammy." Lucas is not concerned that mixing messages across venues will dilute the identity of any of them, citing the sophistication of his customers and the value in doing something memorable, rather than sending out a "boring email". He believes in highlighting the fact that each restaurant is part of a bigger family, rather than an entity to build from the ground up. "Otherwise," he points out, "they're just another restaurant."

Another clever piece of marketing is the Chin Chin: The Book, released late last year. As well as the obvious attraction of chef Benjamin Cooper's Thai recipes, the 250-page tome serves as a physical manifestation of the Chin Chin brand, in all its irreverent, colourful glory. Lucas chose the financially risky option of self-publishing the cookbook, explaining, "We didn't want to be constrained by what some publisher wanted, who's purely motivated by sales."

Taking a risk and trying something different is central to Lucas' ethos, which, unsurprisingly, takes some inspiration from the late founder of Apple, Steve Jobs. "That single-minded determination to make sure that whatever they did was the best and the most innovative," says Lucas, "Whether it's a computer or a restaurant, those philosophies cross over."

As well as laying the groundwork for Kong and managing his existing empire, Lucas has been acting as an industry mentor as part of The Keys. The project, launched late last year, was put together by Broadsheet and Bank of Melbourne to help one of Melbourne's favourite cafes take the next step and open a brand new venue. Along with fellow industry leaders Kate Bartholomew (Coda, Tonka), Nathan Toleman (Two Birds One Stone, Top Paddock) and Bank of Melbourne's local business manager, Vanessa Hastie, Lucas has been working with the successful recipient of The Keys, Andrew Kelly, as he sets up an innovative new filter coffee venue in the CBD. "He had some pretty stiff competition," says Lucas, "but there were a few things that stood out about Andrew. He has a good track record behind him with Auction Rooms and he has a unique angle for his new venue "

In the next installment of The Keys video series ‘Building Your Brand', Lucas passes on some advice on how Kelly can capitalise on the good reputation he's built up through his existing Auction Rooms venue, and some effective ways of building a following for his new venue even before it opens. "The market is so congested, especially at the café level, it's important to differentiate yourself." says Lucas. "The challenge is going to be to convince the marketplace that filter coffee is a different experience."

It's a huge task to launch a new business, particularly on the back of running several other ones – an experience both Lucas and Kelly are going through at the moment. But as Lucas points out, if the idea is strong and well executed, Melbourne diners – and coffee drinkers – are more than up for a culinary challenge. "We have a very significant and very sophisticated market here, because of the depth of competition," he says. "It's a very open-minded market. They're definitely open to new ideas."

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Steering the ship – Nathan Toleman

By Max Olijnyk, Broadsheet

When it came to selecting an Operations and Supply mentor for The Keys, Nathan Toleman was an obvious choice. At the helm of three successful Melbourne venues (and counting), Toleman has become known for steering a steady ship, implementing plenty of behind the scenes processes to ensure both his customers and staff enjoy being there.

"It's been a lifetime of learning I guess," says Toleman. After finishing year 12, he studied hospitality management at William Angliss, then spent a few years working in hospitality and hotels in various roles. After a spell teaching English in Japan and a few years working with a shop fitting company, Toleman was ready to open his own venue." It was a pretty good combination of having a chef as a wife and studying hospitality," he says, "so it was a pretty obvious thing to do."

Since opening that first venue, Liar Liar, in 2006, Toleman has opened Apte, Three Bags Full and Two Birds One Stone, all of which have become well known for being very busy, very efficient venues. His latest project, Top Paddock, is perhaps the busiest and most efficient of them all. "When we design a space, we think of it from the customer's point of view and the worker's point of view as well," says Toleman. "The customers have more fun if the staff are having fun, and the staff have more fun if they feel like they're in control."

For The Keys, we chose Toleman as one of four industry leaders that we think have shaped the Melbourne food and drink landscape. Along with Kate Bartholomew (Coda, Tonka), Chris Lucas (Chin Chin, Baby) and Vanessa Hastie from Bank of Melbourne, Toleman helped sort through the final entries to select Andrew Kelly as the recipient of the invaluable program of mentoring in the path to opening his new venue. "I've been really fortunate to have been involved in this industry for almost 20 years now and I would've loved to have been able to rely on someone's mentoring and advice in the early days," says Toleman. "A chance to work with Andrew or any of the other applicants is great for me, because I can learn off them as well as them learning from me."

Toleman is excited about the concept for Andrew Kelly's as yet-unnamed new venue. "I think it's nice to see somebody wanting to do something a bit different that hasn't been done before," he says. "Right now there's a sort of explosion of cafes in Melbourne and I think that everybody seems to be looking at everybody else for inspiration. People are hungry for something new and to do something new, sometimes you need to have a bit of a name. Andrew can use his name and offer something different, and people will give him a chance."

Following his recent meeting with Andrew Kelly for our latest installment of The Keys video series – Smooth Operations, we asked Nathan Toleman to let us in on some of the lessons he's learned along the way on how to run a smooth and successful cafe venue.

  • 1. The less steps, the better.

    We try to make dishes with three to five steps at the max. Any more than that and it just puts too much pressure on the kitchen and pushes the wait time up. On a busy weekend in a Melbourne cafe, you can wait 30 minutes just for your food, but we've been able to get that down to 15-20 minutes. It's a really important factor; not only in providing a good experience for the customer, but it helps with your productivity, because you can turn over the tables quicker. It benefits the customer as much as the business.

  • 2. Ratios on the floorplan

    It's a natural thing you do when you're starting a business – you try and look at how you can get as many seats in as you can, but there's no point in having them if the kitchen can't accommodate that many customers. We've learnt it's better to reduce your number of seats and increase your kitchen space to be at least 20 % of the floorplan. It might sound excessive but it makes the operations so much smoother. We've designed the kitchen so there's a central pass – it's a bit more like a restaurant I suppose, not a traditional one. It lends itself to food being able to be cooked a lot quicker and for communication between the chef and the floor staff.

  • 3. Ratios on the wait staff

    I've worked as a waiter so I know the extremes. We try to keep it to around 30 customers to every waiter; it provides a good level of service. We always have a manager on as well to act as a second pair of eyes and hands for our waiters whenever they need it.

  • 4. Build a great team

    A great chef is key. We want chefs that can provide food that is a little bit of a twist on an everyday favourite, but it needs to be relatable to people - not too boring either. A good chef is really important, but I wouldn't say they're any more important than a good waiter or a good barista. It's a real team effort and that's something we've focused on – developing a team that's strong on all levels.

  • 5. Suppliers

    We directly contact growers and work with them, so you don't just know where they came from, but who grew them. There's a real emphasis on people knowing where their coffee comes from, so we look at it the same with produce. We have people all over Australia growing avocados for us, we get cheese made for us down in Red Hill. If you look after them, they'll look after you. They'll call you and say, you know, ‘we've got some great prawns on the boat right now, do you want some?' There's no reason to buy frozen or refrigerated food – it's just not necessary.

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Vanessa Hastie - Banking and Finance Expert

With twenty years of banking experience to her name, ten of those in business banking, Vanessa Hastie has a way with numbers. Starting with Bank of Melbourne in late 2011, she operates from the Camberwell branch, taking care of local businesses in the inner eastern suburbs, in particular, Hawthorn, Kew, Ashburton, Glen Iris and Balwyn.

Vanessa has worked across Sydney and Melbourne over the years, and has recently completed a Banking and Finance Masters at Monash University in Caulfield. She is proud to be helping local businesses, owning one herself, and is passionate about finding realistic banking solutions for Victorians. Her values lie in honest and open banking, ensuring businesses know exactly what they need to holistically understand their finances. Read more

To find out more about the great products Vanessa recommended to Andrew, check out our BizPack!

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