Viewpoints from Aussie Cuisine
Chef Saleh believes that ‘if you provide good food and good service, you don’t have to worry about the your restaurant business.’ Setting up a restaurant may be a dream for many chefs, but it poses many challenges. The list of obstacles goes beyond rising food costs, the astronomical rent, difficulty in recruiting and maintaining staff, the small margin of profit, bureaucratic council and regulatory approvals, the restrictive food hygiene regulations, high fit-out costs, and the long and stressful work hours.
The harsh reality is that the majority of restaurants usually fail in the first year. Passion for food and hospitality and a burning desire for freedom drive chefs to open up their own business. When they fail, their dream comes to a humiliating brutal end and they have to start from scratch again working in a new kitchen environment, worrying how to pay off their acquired debts. However, there is always hope for survival of the fittest and the thriving restaurant business can become successful if it combines the right elements, mainly a great chef, a great location, and a great concept.
Large restaurant groups, which dominate the restaurant scene in Australia, are tough competitors to the individual owner-operated restaurants. They have enough funds to invest in stylish fit-outs and state-of-the-art equipment and can afford the whopping rent. They also have the advantage of attracting and retaining experienced and talented staff. As a consequence, they have more capacity to survive tough times. Nevertheless, restaurants belonging to hospitality conglomerates can loose the sense of individuality and quality that small restaurant owners are proud of.
After decades of working for other people, Ashraf Saleh has finally opened a restaurant of his own, but it hasn’t been without its challenges.
On a suburban strip in Cromer in Sydney’s northern beaches, one chef’s life dream is slowly becoming a reality.
Ashraf Saleh has worked in some of the busiest kitchens in the country, but this is the first time he’s taken on the challenge of running a business himself.
“I’ve worked in lots of venues and now finally my dream is coming true,” Mr Saleh told SBS.
Ashraf and his wife Kit searched for three years for the perfect location to start their business, and now they’re confident they’ve found it.
“Small suburban area is better for us,” Mr Saleh said.
Coya’s menu is inspired by Ash’s Middle Eastern background.
“Because people are always there, they live locally and [if] they want to eat something they just walk from home.”
The opening night had to be rescheduled twice due to unexpected delays and costs involved with fitting out the space.
“Sometimes you don’t even know [what it will be.]
“For example lights, you’re thinking maybe this light looks really good, but then the light costs $1000.”
Other aspects of setting up the business were easier, as the space was already fitted out with cooking vents and the council approval process went smoothly.
Due to his work in previous restaurants, including The Station in Wahroonga and the SBS cafe, Mr Saleh is familiar with food hygiene regulations.
“[The] need to make sure everything is clean, fresh and put in the fridge,” Mr Saleh said.
Ash ensures his produce is fresh and comes from the best suppliers.
Mr Saleh began his career in the late 1970s at the Sheraton Hotel in Saudi Arabia.
He has drawn on his Middle Eastern heritage to design the menu.
“I grew up with a very poor family, so I used to help mum and dad cooking because they used to work really hard.
“I bring some of that to the menu, along with super healthy food and Australia’s best produce,” Mr Saleh said.
“Our menu has no chicken nuggets or French fries.”
Kit has never run a restaurant before and is looking after the front of house operations.
“We’re a very good team, we’ve been working really long days leading up to the opening,” Mr Saleh said.
When asked where he thinks the business will be five months later, Mr Saleh hopes “on top of the world.”
“[I’m] very confident, because if you make the right, good food, good service and you don’t have to worry about it.”
Ashraf Saleh is the chef-owner of Coya.
Sinclair, H. (5 March 2017). Coya: Setting up a restaurant from scratch. SBS. Retrieved from http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2017/02/06/coya-setting-restaurant-scratch
Coya: Setting up a restaurant from scratch.(5 March 2017). SBS. Retrieved from http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2017/02/06/coya-setting-restaurant-scratch