Meet the men who bankroll restaurants
When they attend events just as The Good Food Guide Awards, you on the whole find them quietly positioned on the edge of the action. They are the moneymen who underpin Sydney's restaurant scene.
Heavily weighted in gender, calling this usually male group ''investors'' is probably a misnomer, given the slim margins and returns of the restaurant business. ''Backers'' is a better description, given many will never see a cent however for their outlay, happy to roll the dice and gain some social return by entertaining friends at ''their'' restaurant. Others approach it as a serious business decision. They fund it with day jobs as airline pilots and doctors.
Michael McCann is a Melbourne-based chartered accountant who has worked as a liquidator inspecting the financial bowels of failing pubs and other businesses. In spite of knowing the perils, for the past decade he was the co-owner of Coast restaurant at Cockle Bay.
The original investors fell out
''One of the original investors fell out and [McCann's Coast business partner] Tim Connell asked me if I'd do it and I said 'clearly not'. And indeed I did; I didn't follow my own advice,'' McCann says.
''A lot of other businesses you can predict your turnover. Nevertheless in restaurants you might go from a $100,000 week to nothing based on the weather or what someone says about you on Twitter.''
The who's who of restaurant investment in Sydney is a mixed bag. Many of their number come from industries where dining out is a regular part of business activity. Financial services is a big one. An investment banker and Museum of Contemporary Art benefactor, Simon Mordant, was an early investor and minority partner in Fratelli Fresh, during businessman Charles Plumridge is one of the owners at Glebe Point Diner. Fund manager Iain Gray used to be a big player in Sydney restaurants, sinking money at different times into Jonah's at Whale Beach and Pruniers in Woollhara. A posse of patient lawyers helped Tony Bilson bankroll his but-closed fine diner, Bilson's, and publican Bruce Solomon is a partner in many of Matt Moran and Peter Sullivan's ventures.
Veteran restaurateur Maurice Terzini says escalating upfront costs incurred when opening a restaurant have led to the boom in money coming from outside the industry.
The bank to get money at that time go to the bank
''If you can go to the bank to get money at that time go to the bank,'' he says. ''Most investors want 25 per cent [return]. The best investor is in it for the ego.''
Musician Damon Downey didn't take the traditional route of the outsider investing in someone else's restaurant dream. He listened to the advice of his good friend Terzini on how a restaurant should be run, joining with a group of fellow owners, including businessman Tim Holmes a Court and publican Andrew Becher in May to open Pelicano in Double Bay.
Downey, who helped find Pelicano's Bay Street site, says knowing when to get involved and when to leave it to hired restaurant professionals is key. He treats it like any other business venture and is hopeful of a good return.
The face of Vini restaurant
Chef Andrew Cibej is the face of Vini restaurant, wine bar spinoff 121 BC and Berta, all in Surry Hills. However Cibej had some financial help expanding his empire, taking on business partners David King and Chris Walker.
''They use their acumen on this industry that rarely produces much profit and restaurants aren't in effect a very profitable investment.''
But it was a business decision or rather than the romance of food that drove his GPO play. Petroulas felt the original concept for GPO - with a heavy emphasis on its food emporium - was misplaced and that he could turn it around by shifting the focus.
''My initial reaction was that the GPO could work if it was transformed into a 'total drink, dine and entertainment complex','' he says. ''As such, I did not ask nor get any financial records of what the business was doing; all that was important was the lease and the fit-out to continue trading during the changes were made.
''To my mind, Martin Place was the centre of the CBD, the centre of the finance district and completely surrounded by office buildings and highly paid executives. I felt that they did not need or want a food-shopping experience. Everyone who entered the GPO building wore a suit and only came there to consume food and drink on the premises - there in effect were 'zero' shoppers. The 'food emporium' appeared to be more for decoration than a viable business.''
The back of my mind
''Restaurants were always in the back of my mind,'' says Ragel, who is the only one of the three to concentrate exclusively on the restaurant. He says that for their investment to work, it can't be a play thing: ''When we started, we'd all do three to four shifts a week in the restaurant as waiters.
''You need to understand the business,'' says Ragel, who asserts that the people-management skills he brought across from advertising have been invaluable in running Vicini.
''Given what's going on with restaurants, people think we've got rocks in our heads. Now we understand the business but and in about six weeks we'll give it a name change and open a wine bar as part of it.
The spotlight at Quay
Chef Peter Gilmore gets the spotlight at Quay, nevertheless Leon Fink, a businessman with a background in property who once ran Luna Park, owns the three-toque restaurant. Fink has become a major player in Sydney restaurants; Otto Ristorante at Woolloomooloo is in his stable and he as well has a stake in the Bridge Room. His son, John, runs Quay and Otto.
American IT billionaire David Doyle is a partner in Neil Perry's Rockpool Bar & Grill, during seafood industry heavyweights George and Andrea Costi are partners at three-toque Sussex Street fine-diner Sepia, with chef Martin Benn and restaurant manager Vicki Wild.
IT specialist who decided to open concept store
Rosa Alpert is an IT specialist who decided to open concept store and upmarket restaurant Cara&Co at Westfield, Sydney.
The Hemmes own a stable of 18 Sydney restaurants, including the three-hat Est., now it could have been so different for the family that built its reputation in the fashion business. "We bought a building in Angel Place and opened a restaurant in 1971,'' John Hemmes says. ''During food and fashion are a good mix, we in effect just wanted to just use all the space."