The City Leaders Forum is a joint initiative between Griffith University and YP Gold Coast showcasing the people in our city, who are driving innovation and change within the business community.
The stories of two young restaurateurs, their outstanding successes, goals and frank views on what needs to be done on the Gold Coast to enable their expansion, boost their industry and the image of the city as a dining and entertainment destination.
Simon and Adam, both in their thirties, are at the leading edge of the restaurant business on the Gold Coast and while their operations are vastly different, they have much in common.
They have achieved lofty, enviable positions and reputations for excellence in very few years.
They are good mates with establishments just a short walk apart in bustling Burleigh Heads, where they have broken new ground with their focus on high standards and “doing things differently”.
Both have also achieved success, at different times, at Nobby Beach, another of the Coast’s newer frontiers of food.
Both have Greek origins - love for their trade comes from the heart and from tradition.
Both are extensively travelled and have successfully used knowledge and skills gained abroad in their Gold Coast operations.
They have learned the hard way, paid their own way.
Both are now being frustrated by out-of-date regulations that are standing as obstacles on their pathways to future success.
These rapidly rising captains of cuisine love their work and their city and the lifestyle it provides.
To them, the Gold Coast is a new canvas offering enormous opportunity to develop a food culture that will, in time, compare favourably with the
offerings of Sydney and Melbourne.
And while they applaud significant new cultural initiatives in the city, they
say more progressive policies are needed regarding restaurants and entertainment venues, if full potential is to be achieved.
Simon and Adam are now committed to doing all they can to bring the Gold Coast more into line with Australian and international cities where progressive policies have created business environments that allow dining and entertainment enterprises to flourish.
They want to work cooperatively with the Gold Coast City Council on what have been thorny issues, especially those relating to parking and the licensing and location of night entertainment venues.
The son of a Greek father and Polish mother, Simon, is proud of his heritage – it has helped in no small way to influence his enterprises.
He was born in Melbourne where his godfather has, for decades, run
And Simon, 35, is just as proud of the Gold Coast, where he has lived since the age of 14.
It is where his dreams become reality.
“I’ve always been keen on business and making my own way,” said Simon.
“As a kid I gathered lost balls from around local golf courses and sold them.
“I had a lawn mowing business but the dust made me sick – I also had food stalls at markets in Brisbane, selling things like chicken rolls, corn on the cob, hot chips and pink lemonade.
“Then I set up a small second hand furniture store in Miami and went broke in six months.
“Sitting by myself in a room full of old furniture, waiting for a customer to come in was soul destroying but it taught me a lot.
“But I was very young and my dreams were still intact.”
Simon’s interest then moved to real estate. He studied for an agents’ licence, but found he was continually distracted by cookbooks and knew that a life involving food, not property, was for him.
Successful small ventures then followed with the “The Three Beans” coffee shop in Broadbeach, the “Little Beans” at Nobby Beach and Piccolo at Miami.
But Simon’s inner hunger was not satisfied by the coffee shop phenomenon that has swept the Coast in recent years.
“My dream was to establish an authentic Greek restaurant - my godfather in Melbourne had a famous Greek restaurant in the old days and still has one he has been running for more than 40 years.
“I remember going to his restaurant for dinner as a kid and while the rest of the family was at the table, I would be watching what was happening in the kitchen – back then I didn’t realise this was having an impact, but obviously it did.
“I grew up eating Greek food but much of it was ‘Australianised’ – but I didn’t want to offer this when I opened my own restaurant - if it wasn’t genuinely
Greek it would not be on my menu – this was important to me.”
Simon’s commitment to authenticity drove him to travel to Greece, where he lived for six months, researching recipes and cooking methods, spending time in the northern realms of the country, his father’s homeland, as well as in the islands.
“When I returned from Greece I found a site in Nobby Beach for my first restaurant, Hellenika, and by this time the whole process had taken 10 years out of my life, but I had found what I was meant to do.
“The concept of offering traditional Greek food, and also promoting the Greek practice of sharing food on the Gold Coast was daunting.
“We had many customers coming in who were totally unfamiliar with the concept of sharing.
“I remember, in the early days, customers asked for butter for their bread and tomato sauce but I said no from day one.
“This was dangerous, but I am glad now, because what we offered caught on with Gold Coast people, who started to swarm to it.
“My dream was to make Hellenika an establishment-style restaurant and now, six years later, this goal has, essentially, been achieved.”
Simon’s success with Hellenika, encouraged him to seek new opportunities and in 2010 he found a site at Burleigh Heads,where he established The Fishhouse.
He is humble about the many rave reviews in national and leading food media that the restaurant has received– more publicity than most restaurants receive over decades and with a VIP patronage that reflects a hard-earned reputation.
“The Fishhouse is a little more upmarket,” said Simon.
“These days people do their homework before they come out; they can see our menu and prices online and accept that they reflect the very high quality of the seafood and produce we buy.
“We fly in fish every day and the prices reflect this – the customers are a little more affluent, and there’s also a lot of people who come to The Fishhouse for special occasions.
“We also get a lot of international guests and VIPs referred to us from organsations like the Council, Gold Coast Tourism and Queensland tourism.
“People involved with major business activities on the Coast come here – Audi launched a car at The Fishhouse – we’ve also had some movie stars
and a lot of top sportspeople.
“If you are eating fish here – you know that there will be no fresher product anywhere else in Australia at that time.
“The food is very simple, but it is the best of the best at the time of serving.”
Adam, 33,was born and bred on with Gold Coast – his father was Greek and he was brought up around good food and Greek culture.
When Adam was 15, his father, a school principal and mother, a school teacher, took him and his sister out of school and the family travelled throughout Europe for three months in a motorhome.
“I remember my teachers were worried at the time and I was told my OP would be affected,” said Adam.
“But dad and mum said travel was the best education I would ever get – that I would catch up with my grades, but I would never have an experience like it again – and they were right.
“It gave me an amazing taste for Europe and I when came back my perspective on life had really changed.
“I travelled for another six years – did all of Europe, most of Asia and returned to the Gold Coast when I was 24.
“During this time I worked in hospitality and saved some money, about $50,000, but was confronted with reality -what was I going to do with my life?
“But I knew in my heart I wanted to work for myself.
“My first hospitality venture, in 2007, was a small bohemian-style cafe a called The Cavern at Nobby Beach and it became really well known for live music and the arts culture.
“I love that kind of cultural experience.
“I had lived with musicians overseas and I thought a venture like The Cavern would work- and there was nothing like it in Nobby’s or on the Gold Coast.
“On Monday nights, with the live music, we would be packed; we also held trivia nights and live art nights were people would do either do portrait drawing or they would put on an art display; we did Sunday morning open-mic and jam sessions – it was just awesome.
“I ran it for three years and learned a lot about what I would and would not do again in business.
“I sold The Cavern in 2010, took a year off and then I saw a gap in the market, at Burleigh Heads and started Justin Lane in 2011.
“The Coast was suffering from the impact of the global financial crisis and there I was, breaking new ground again – this time in Burleigh.
“I remember being told that everyone was struggling and my parents were being conservative, advising me to get a job and buy a unit – I pondered this for a while but I had saved more money and was determined to have a crack.
“I opened Justin Lane with a friend, Rob Moorwood, a chef I had worked with for three years at The Cavern.
“He came in as partner and head chef (at Justin Lane) with a 25 per cent stake in the business and about a year ago I acquired 100 per cent.
“It has been going gangbusters, accommodating 220 patrons in one sitting.”
Adam subsequently established the Cavalier restaurant next door and expanded Justin Lane with upstairs premises to cater for an additional 100 people for private functions or large group bookings.
The “100% sourdough & artisan style” pizzas offered by Justin Lane have developed a huge following, consistent with Adam’s approach to “do things simply but exceptionally well.”
Always looking for new opportunities, Adam recently launched a quality food delivery service for his Justin Lane offerings.
The demand has been so strong that he has been pitching in to help with deliveries.
Adam has always been the master of his own destiny.
“It was a natural progression to reach where I am today,” he said.
“I understood that people need to enjoy good food and a drink, regardless of the economy - if you can give them a really well – priced package where they get a good meal, have a drink and experience an amazing atmosphere, your business will always be resilient during tough times.
“We were the first pizzeria on the Gold Coast that did something different providing “artisan” style, sour dough pizzas and now delivering them.
The opening of Cavalier, seating 60 next door, was Adam’s next successful step.
It is an intimate Italian restaurant with a boutique bar and complements Justin Lane by being completely different, offering pasta made on the premises and a comprehensive range of Italian dishes.
(Simon and Adam have had a number of former staff open their own restaurants - an outcome they regard with pride).
Simon Gloftis and Adam Haralampou are smart operators full of drive and doing very well in the Gold Coast’s highly competitive restaurant and entertainment environments.
They are absolutely committed to the Coast and applaud efforts to create major new cultural assets, supporting Mayor Tom Tate as an “ideas man.”
Highly optimistic and hard working, both see big future opportunities on the Coast, and they are prepared to invest significantly in expansion - but both are frustrated.
They have seen how restaurants and nightspots operate in some of Australia’s and the world’s biggest cities that have nurtured industries based on providing good food and entertainment to huge domestic and visitor markets.
They have examined the reasons why Sydney and Melbourne are highly regarded internationally as food destinations.
For a start, growth of these sectors, is encouraged by positive policies - they do not have strangling regulations that either stall or stop expansion.
“I love to see the good news coming out about major new projects on the Coast and the Commonwealth Games but there are a couple of outdated local authority regulations still in place that do not belong in a progressive city,” said Simon.
“The council at the time these regulations were drafted, was probably trying to do the right thing by being protective but more reasonable policies, consistent with a modern city are now vital.”
Of particular concern to Simon are parking provisions.
“For me to open a restaurant now, I must have a specified number of
parking spaces and if these spaces aren’t there, I can’t open, or I have to pay the council a levy of $50,000 per park – that’s one space per 15 square metres of floor area,” said Simon.
“We are not BHP, we are restaurant operators and we can’t open more venues because of this provision.
“This regulation needs to be relaxed – I remember a (council) officer commenting to me that the Coast has parking problems and I said, so does Hong Kong, so does New York, so do Sydney and Melbourne– does the Gold Coast need to stop because of this issue?
“There must be other ways to address this – we have best practice in public transport, we have taxis, Uber, buses, the light rail – the Gold Coast will absolutely flourish if this outdated parking regulation is revoked.
“I am looking at six new sites right now, but none of them are viable with the
current parking policy in place.
“I even had an upstairs extension of Hellenika refused by the council because I could not provide enough parking out front, which was impossible.
“I know that the Mayor would love to change it, but I think it will continue to be a slow process through town planning, but in the meantime the growth of my business and my industry is being stifled.
“Hopefully some clever minds in the council will come up with a solution soon, for the sake of the city and I certainly stand ready to help if they want advice from the industry.”
Adam share’s Simon’s concerns about over-regulation and has also volunteered to work with the council to find solutions.
“I understand there must be a certain amount of red tape associated with dealing with any form of government but if the Gold Coast wants to move forward and to be more like Sydney and Melbourne in terms of restaurants and entertainment, it must loosen its grip on our industry,” said Adam.
“We want to do more but can’t.
“Why aren’t there more small, cool bars on the Coast?
“When boutique bar licences were introduced in Sydney and Melbourne, the resulting businesses went gangbusters.
“Small bars with capacity for 50 to 60 and without a requirement to sell food opened up left, right and centre.
“They are just bars and as far as I am concerned this is great.
“Brisbane is now also following suit in this regard, but it seems to be too difficult on the Gold Coast.”
Adam said there had been some ‘talk’ in council about allowing premises with maximum gross floor areas of 90 square metres, and with a closing time of 10 pm.
“We all know that people don’t come out to such licensed premises until 8.00 and that a gross floor area of 90 square metres is unreasonable - these requirements would make any new venue unviable.”
Parking provisions are also a substantial issue for Adam.
“I have amalgamated, in an arcade, eight shops and turned them into my two venues and I don’t even get a car park.
“When I went to increase an area they worked out that I would be up for around $200,000 in fees.
“That’s ridiculous, no operator like me can afford this and also they don’t create the parking spaces, so where does the money go?
“If, on the other hand, the council made available some spaces out front of premises, this may make a new venue viable.
“I have a food licence – I predominantly provide food and if people want to drink afterwards that is fine; but you can’t set up under a general hotel licence; you can’t set up under a cabaret (nightclub) licence, and you can’t have a straight bar licence.
“The reason for this is based on the mentality that all the problems related to licensed venues including nightclubs should be kept in Surfers Paradise and Broadbeach.
“In my view the problems exist in Surfers and Broadbeach because the Council is putting all of these mega venues in one area and patrons are then released onto the streets at the same time, which inevitably leads to problems.
“When you go to Melbourne and Sydney you see all of these small licensed venues with 50 people, 70 there, 20 somewhere else and they all trickle out at different times and nothing happens like at Surfers.
“In Cavalier I have a 1 a.m. licence and let’s say you have 50 people at the end of the night drinking; with four staff – that’s one staff member per 12 people - then you’ve got nightclubs with say six security guards but around 500 people or more for them to deal with.
“With a small venue you can keep an eye on what is happening, and it is a lot safer for all concerned.
“The council is concerned about setting precedents but, l see a good case for a lot more small venues to be established – I think this would be a great outcome for the operators and the city.”