There have been a string of high profile restaurants closing in Sydney recently but chef and restaurateur Luke Mangan is surviving despite the tough conditions.
Mangan has just opened his ninth restaurant, Salt Tapas in Singapore, and credits his move into Asia and variety of income streams from baby food to cook books for his survival.
His restaurants and products currently turn over $35 million a year and Mangan has his sights set on adding even more restaurants to the group.
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The restaurant industry in Sydney is going through a tough time what’s your take on that?
I tell everyone, we’re not London, we’re not Europe, we’re not Los Angeles. Sydney is an expensive city. Australia is expensive to eat out in. I’ve just come back from LA with some of my guys and we’re the same standard as other restaurants, but it’s cheaper there. Our costs are a lot higher over here, our staff and things like that, and I think that’s a big problem. Fine dining’s always going to be around. But do we have too many fine dining restaurants in Sydney at the moment? And maybe that’s what it is, maybe it’s just a little cog in the wheel and just getting back into line I think. Fine dining will be here in 20 years’ time, but maybe there’s just too many of them.
How did you get started in the food business?
I started an apprenticeship in Melbourne pretty much because I got kicked out of school, and it just sort of went from there. I was 15 and I’d done work experience at a restaurant in Melbourne a few months before I got kicked out. My mum was a good cook and once I got kicked out, I went back to that place and wanted to do an apprenticeship and thankfully I got the job.
How did you make the transition from chef to business owner?
I just fall into it, just like I fell into cooking. You learn as you go I think, and I’m very different now than I was 10 years ago – well, six years ago, seven years ago I was standing in a kitchen cooking, and all I was focused on was the food. But now I’m focused on the whole restaurant, from the music, the lighting, the sort of wine, and not just the food. So I’ve learned and grown with that I guess, and you’ve got to have faith in your key staff, and give them trust and let them run the business as well.
How many staff do you have now and what’s the group’s revenue?
About 600 plus staff and if you added all the group’s revenue and the products business, you’re looking at about $35 million a year.
How do you plan to grow that revenue?
I’m centralising my head office, my food business, the warehouse, into a 1,000 square metre warehouse in Sydney. So it’s one big open plan office, our product business, a cafe and a wine bar. And, you know, that’s going to be our head office, and that’s going to hopefully generate more revenue obviously, but also cut some costs as we used to have a warehouse out near Homebush and an office in the city.
We are also expanding in Jakarta this year, and Bali and lots of things next year. My focus is not really to grow turnover just for the sake of it. Anyone can have high turnover. But if you’re turning over $35 million dollars a year, and it costs you $35.1 million to do it, it makes no sense really. So I think our turnover will grow, but also we’re going to cut some costs as well, by centralising our office and warehouse and things like that.
You’ve now got nine restaurants, a couple of cookbooks and a food range. How did you achieve that sort of expansion?
I think that it just sort of happened. People come to you and offer you partnerships and deals and stuff like that and you look at it and see if you can do it, and go ahead and do it. I think when you get into a partnership with people like Hilton or the cruise ships like P&O, things like that, you’ve got to have the same vision and if you share the same vision, it should be a great partnership.