George Calombaris to launch “food Disneyland” venture

Restaurateur and TV identity George Calombaris says he is planning to launch a “food Disneyland for kids” after being named the emerging entrepreneur of the year by Ernst & Young.


Calombaris, a judge on the popular Network Ten show MasterChef, was recognised for his building of the Press Club Group at the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Southern region awards in Melbourne last night.


Speaking to StartupSmart, Calombaris says that he plans to add a seventh restaurant to his group, along with a non-profit organisation that will teach children how to cook healthy meals.


“I’m talking to government bodies and some influential Australians about a kind of food Disneyland for kids – that’s my dream,” he says.


“We want to do this in areas hit by the bushfires in Victoria, to help those regions. I want to grow something spectacular, with a cooking school, bakery training and a seafood lab, potentially on one site. It’s a massive initiative and it will take a few years to do.”


Calombaris’ six-strong restaurant business has grown from a $7 million to $21 million turnover entity in the last four years, aided by his personal brand turnover of $2 million.


He says that he always wanted to run his own business, adding that he is still scared by the prospect of failure.


“Getting money isn’t the difficult bit, it’s the sense that you could still fail,” he says. “My business isn’t in manufacturing – you can’t just stick it in a new area and expect it to work. It’s all about the people, which is the case for businesses in other industries too.”


“It’s all happened organically – for me, a business plan is just a snapshot of a dream. I opened Press Club because I saw the opportunity for a modern Greek eatery and then I saw a hole in the market for cheaper Greek food.”


Calombaris insists that sticking to the business fundamentals has been key to his success, even more so than his high public profile.


“MasterChef has been positive, but it has given people a higher expectation of what they should get when they come to my restaurant,” he says. “It really raises the ante. I wouldn’t be on MasterChef if I didn’t have a good restaurant. I’d have no credibility.”


“Financially, your finger needs to be on the pulse all of the time. Don’t look at history too much. Okay, you may have made a loss, but if you focus on that you’ll go down the gurgler. You need to look forward and set yourself parameters for success.”


“It’s got to come from the heart too. If you see your business as a quick money maker, it won’t work.”


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