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Entrepreneurs 101, day seven – serving up a great business

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Those in the restaurant game often say that everything from the kitchen to the actual running of the business and even to the books, which they hope don’t have to be ‘cooked’, can be a real battle zone.

Well, Melbourne chef Guy Grossi actually saw one of his restaurants in the centre of the Red Shirts protest in Bangkok, which was not great for business.

Guy Grossi is recognised as a leading Australian chef worldwide and isn’t only a so-called food personality but also an impressive entrepreneur. For over 20 years, he has owned and managed many household name Melbourne restaurants.

Serving thousands of customers a week across the restaurants, the stars of the stable nowadays are Grossi Florentino and its sister restaurant, the Mirka at Tolarno Hotel. At Grossi Florentino, there’s a range of dining options from the affordable Cellar Bar with $15 meals, to the upmarket $50-plus meals in the fine dining restaurant upstairs.

His Thailand venture is in partnership with the Hotel Intercontinental, which he describes as a fantastic partnership.

“The Red Shirts protest was not good for business as we were close to the action and you don’t expect this kind of thing when you open a restaurant,” he says. “I am glad it has been sorted out.”

But he’s not resting on his laurels and achievements with a new restaurant planned to open in Melbourne in October.

“It will be a restaurant based on North Eastern Italian cuisine from Veneto, which is where my mother comes from,” Grossi explains. “So we’ve got a beautiful menu which is focussing on food and wine from that region.” 

Passion is crucial

Family is important to this entrepreneurial chef and like many Italian-born Australians, Grossi learnt the cooking and restaurant game from his father Pietro, who was a pioneer in establishing the marque of Melbourne as a food mecca in Australia.

Many entrepreneurs say they have a vision and then they ply their passion to make it happen but Grossi’s was less clearly defined. However, he had the p-word in spades, or should I say ladels?

“I always had a vision that we would do something, that I would achieve something that was special with food and with wine and with my craft from a very young age,” he recalls. “I remember walking into the kitchen for the first time as a professional – it was the first time I was actually being paid to do the work.

“I was 15-years-old and working alongside some really fantastic chefs and to see their energy and the pride they took in their work, I thought to myself, ‘this is the passion I want to have and this is what I want to do and one day I hope to achieve great things’.”

He says he loves to see young people exude the passion and the dreams he had when he started. He knows they’re not just helping themselves – they’re making it easy for him to achieve his goals.

“I look around and there’s people I’m working side by side with that weren’t even born when I started working in the industry,” he confesses. “It’s a bit grounding and it brings you back to earth a bit, but I still feel there’s a long way to go.”

Grossi started with just seven employees and now has hundreds that make up the team.

Grossi has tread the path of the Jamie Olivers, Luke Mangans and Bill Grangers of the cooking world with restaurants, books and television shows. So, who have been his inspirations?

“I’m always inspired by everything around me,” he says. “You know, people who are doing great things within their business, whether it be the restaurant business or whether it be other businesses, I always look at successful people, not with envy but with pride.”

He says this has motivated him to ask ‘what can I do to achieve the same sort of result?’

Business lessons

Apart from the great French chefs, he recognises the lessons from some of his contemporaries.

“I’ve learnt from people like Gordon Ramsay who have come through and made something of their career, rather than just the stereotypical type of career,” he observes. “You don’t necessarily have to be like the people that inspire you – you just see that there are other ways of doing things.”

He also praised the work of local chefs Luke Mangan and Shannon Bennett for always thinking outside the square and showing the way.

On what he has learnt along the path from the kitchen to the head office is learn from mistakes, which he says you always make, especially in the early days of building a business, and to recognise what works.

“I think that you can really benefit from taking life lessons on and try and learn from your own and other peoples’ mistakes as well,” he advises. “Also, there’s no point reinventing the wheel. If somebody’s travelled that course before, and they’ve chartered it for you then why not pick up where they’ve left off?”

Surprisingly, despite his gung-ho, big personality approach to people and the camera, Grossi knows the value of key partners in his success.

“I believe that you cannot be successful without great people around you, and it’s not only where you’re weak, but where you’re strong as well because we’re certainly not perfect and we tend to make mistakes,” he says. “So having great consultants, having excellent staff, having great business partners, I think this is one of the biggest things which attributes to the success of any business person.”

He also is a believer in the power of networking to make the great things happen.

“I think networking is key, and I think as time goes on it becomes more and more important,” he counsels. “As you know, relationships are very important to us as human beings and I think we all need to be great at our craft, we all need to be good at what we do but you have to build relationships. I believe if you leave somebody with a positive experience, then the chances are that person will want to help you in the future and we all need help in business as with life.”

Focus on people and innovations

Grossi thinks having the guts to spend on important innovations and people to create successful outcomes has been critical in his business story.

“I think we always need to spend money in order to get our message out there, and certainly public relations and spending money on good people that can get your message out there is something that is a necessity at times,” he suggests. “But it’s not always money – you could spend time and effort, which equates to the same value anyway.”

He adds that experience tells you that you have to spend to get a good lawyer, a good accountant and good staff but it’s generally money well spent.

Asking him to reflect on his business-building journey, the question was posed – what advice would you give the Guy Grossi of tomorrow, who might be reading this story?

“I would say to cover off on some of the things I would have already, which is basically that it’s passion for what you do, it’s the want and the hunger of being successful and being able to be devoted to it,” he enthuses. “And definitely try and learn from others that have stepped before you, surround yourself by great people and don’t be scared of failure – just move forward and keep on going.”

And his go-forward has been recognised outside the cooking and restaurant community, receiving an award from the President of Italy in recognition of his contribution to “la cucina Italiana” abroad in 1996. Meanwhile, this year he represented the Victorian Government in its showpiece at the Shanghai Expo, called Put Victoria on Your Table, which showcased the best of the state’s foods and wines.

Grossi says his favourite dish would have to be the abbacchio dish or suckling lamb. The recipe features traditional Italian flavours of garlic, parmesan and parsley which flavour the tender meat and leave a tasty crust.

While Grossi might have a secret recipe or two that have not turned up in his cookbooks, when it comes to how he cooked up a great business, he’s an open book.

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