Episode 011 - Scott Fox
Out of the Fry Pan and Into the Fire
Taking risks and working hard to create a thriving business
Chef Scott Fox purchased Pearls on the Beach with his wife and business partner Melissa 17yrs ago. In that time, they've evolved the restaurant to one of the premiere fine dining destinations on the Central Coast.
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Chef Scott Fox purchased Pearls on the Beach with his wife and business partner Melissa 17yrs ago. In that time, they've evolved the restaurant to one of the premiere fine dining destinations on the Central Coast.
We have a great discussion around the business journey, challenges in the cut-throat world of hospitality, managing teams, and so much more.
We're also really excited that as of today, Pearls on the Beach is reopening for dining service! Show them some support!
Check out Pearls on the Beach - pearlsonthebeach.com.au
Please note, while an effort is made to provide an accurate transcription, errors and omissions may be present. No part of this transcription can be referenced or reproduced without permission.
Rob: Alright. So Scott Fox from Pearls on the Beach Restaurant, you're head chef and co-owner over there. Can you tell us a little bit about your restaurant?
Scott: Absolute beach front. I think is the only one that I can think of on the Central Coast, we've got, oh I tell a lie. Got a few in around Terrigal.
Rob: We won't talk about those.
Scott: But yes. Step out of step out of the restaurant on to the sands in beautiful Pearl Beach, a little secluded southern suburb down there and a little Hamlet isolated community that gets a lot of Sydney exposure, so. Well, the people who. Come or, know Pearl Beach. Know of it from their travels from Sydney, where the many holiday houses weekends away. Mum, great aunty. Grandparents used to own a house together all the time. So it's it's sort of a unique little part of the coast.
Rob: So we'll probably touch on the evolution of Pearl Beach a little bit shortly. But so you actually bought this business 17 years ago.
Scott: Yeah. I've been working there for 20 years, so it's even crazier when you look at it like that. I think, as I've mentioned it quite a bit. That measure Chef Years and Hospitality's is like dog years.
Rob: So it's so it's really a lot like almost a millennia.
Scott: Pretty much, yeah. I should have a couple of gold watches by now. Yes, it's been a while, but that's I suppose that's that lengthen. Longevity. Is it due to the fact that we've got a got a business It's very much lifestyle orientated. So we we we've made it so that it works for us. And we, um, we love going to work, you know, so.
Rob: I think that's an important thing. And so you would have been quite young when that opportunity came about and you said you work there a little bit longer. So you're obviously working there as a chef. I'm assuming beforehand.
Scott: Yeah, yeah. So I was employed as the head chef under some new owners. They'd recently bought the restaurant. They'd organised a chef from Sydney to move up. He pulled the pin on it. Him moving up from Sydney. We'd only moved up from Balmain about a year, year and a half before that. And and I just was looking for a new job. I'd helped a mate start a cafe, and it was more cafe food. I'm more of a restaurant chef. So it was, you know, an opportunity to get out there and get back into restaurants after working for him for that time and put my résumé out to what I thought were the better restaurants on the coast and which I could see myself working at. And and Pearls was one of them. And. My resume went to the old owners, they then forwarded on my information to the new owners at the same time as their chef had pulled the pin. So I was all this. Perfect timing sort of scenario and interviewed. We both liked each other and. Yeah. So I started out as the head chef then many years ago.
Rob: And so a few years later, the opportunity to purchase the restaurant came along. And so how old were you when that happened?
Scott: Twenty seven, I believe. Yeah, so pretty young.
Rob: And it was the evolution from head chef or chef to business owner is something I'd always anticipated. Or was it just opportunistic?
Scott: I think is a little bit of both. I mean, I think every. Well, not every Chef, but a lot of Chefs when they get to the head chef position. You know, there's a bit of progression through the ranks and you kind of in a mindset to to better yourself and to to move upwards. So I suppose every every head chef sort of thinks or hopes that they could probably do their own business because we worked long hours for other people. And you always kind of think I will be nice to have the reward for all the hours that we put into ourselves. So I was always sort of back of mind sort of thing. I wouldn't mind owning my own place. I don't think I'd ever thought that we'd jump into the deep end of a of a, you know, 70 seat fine dining restaurant. But.
Rob: No big deal.
Scott: No big deal, though. No. And my wife at the time. Her experience with hospitality was, you know, filling in kitchen and shifts whenever someone went sick or something like that for me. So it wasn't wasn't like that. We were a hospitality family. She'd had hotel management, hospitality experience rather than the restaurant scenario. So.
Rob: So walk us through that. That conversation way, if you've gone home to your wife, Melissa, and and said, hey, darling, you know, did you have a great day? Oh, by the way, I want to buy this restaurant.
Scott: That's pretty much how it went. It was pretty. So what do you think about buying the restaurant and to check on or whatever? Because we'd only like, I think six months before I'd bought a house. So we were mortgaged to the Hilton and are just trying to get our heads around paying, paying the loan off. And. And then I walk through the door and say, hey, go ahead. We see about buying the restaurant because the owners came to me and said, look, we're think of selling offering you first first bite of the cherry sort of thing and. And I say, but, you know, it makes money. It's it's a viable business. You know, they'll be getting loans and stuff back then was a lot easier than it is now. So was, you know, something we could facilitate. So we started to explore a bit further. We'd moved up from from Sydney for a reason we're both country people. So it wasn't always going to be a permanent thing. Sydney So moving to the coast was sort of like a step. Not not as far as jumping straight back to the country, but nice interim sort of scenario.
Rob: But our main to the coast even now, is quite different.
Scott: It is a bit yeah, yeah, but I mean, even more so from Muswellbrook or Young, where we're both from. So so we used to come up to the coast for weekends to get away from the rat race. And it was sort of like one particular evening we were in Sydney and it was pouring down rain and people pushing each other to get on the bus to get home. And I was like, yeah, now we've got to get out of here before we go crazy. So. So, yeah. So that evolution was was. You know, we took some fairly big steps, but I look back on it now. It doesn't seem that big a deal. It was just like. We're not happy where we are, what are we going to do? We're going to do this and we moved on. Same with business. It was like. The businesses sort of had been. Well, what I could do in that in the time Head Chef there was I could do what I could do without, you know, sort of appeasing someone else's requests as an owner and. So the opportunity to then be the owner and then evolve it to what I wanted to be was sort of too good too good an opportunity to turn down. And like I said, it was a big jump. Sort of it's a sort of business that you would imagine you'd have second or third businesses, not your first business to cut your teeth on. So.
Rob: It is quite a leap.
Scott: Yeah, it was big, big leap, but I think it's one of those leaps that. The bravery of youth allows you to do.
Rob: Bravery, stupidity.
Scott: Exactly. Yeah. I look back on it now. There's no way I would make that decision now with a 47 year old head. But when you're young and impetuous and you think you can take on the world, you do those things. And I suppose we were very fortunate. We had a lot of support family wise with that decision. And and and I think the way it worked out. You know, it's. But it was one of those things that in our mind, it could not work out like it was this. There was no. Never. Well, if it gets hard, we'll just sell it or close it down or do whatever, cause we'd put our house, new house on the line and our parents had put up their both their houses as collateral as well for loans. So there's a lot of the lot on the table. So.
Rob: So when you took that leap, did you have a bit of a runway plan in place, say, you know, well, we'll flip it in in five years, or were you in it for the long haul originally?
Scott: Well, we've always been in it for the long haul. Yeah, it was a it's a it's always been an expression of us. We look back on the big business plan that we put penned for the bank when we're getting trying to look for loans six months before we bought the business. And you look at it today and it's like, yeah, we ticked all those boxes and continue to do so. Like, it's some it's quite a cathartic experience to actually look back on plans you've made with that head. But it still rings true now, which is kind of really rewarding scenario because, I mean, bet it's evolved. And diverge somewhat over the years. But the core basis of what we wanted to achieve, we've achieved. Which is pretty. Pretty. Pretty special.
Rob: It's extraordinary.
Rob: I mean, that I mean, it's no mean feat, but particularly in hospitality. There's quite a high turnover rate of business owners and that sort of thing. Did you. Was there moments there where you thought perhaps maybe that wasn't the smartest decision to own your own restaurant.
Scott: Oh, definitely. Yeah. I think in every business, you know, you have your ups and downs. But yeah, definitely there were times where, you know, we were counting the counting the numbers and then what was coming through the door. And I was like, it's going to be tight this month or whatever. And we had to reinvest moneys back into the business at certain times when. When you go through the financial crisis and stuff like that, but we've stayed pretty. Pretty buoyant, mainly because we are owner operators. Our two big salaries, a head chef and manager. And we fill those two roles so. And also affords us the ability to evolve really quickly if the if things change, because we're we're very tactile with the business. You know, when when the businesses open, we are we're in there working. So if there is a problem, we sort it out straight away. There's no chain. I'll put in a form for someone else to, or okay this, this change,
Rob: Feedback box.
Scott: So, yeah, there's none of that. It's just like a direct like yes or no. Enact the, you know, whatever strategy we have to do there and then. So I think that sort of helped, especially current day, you know, with the Covid scenario. It's you know, we've we were a fine dine a la carte Restaurant on a Sunday night, and then we reopened the following Thursday as a takeaway Pearls at home. So it's you know, and I'm seeing restaurants now advertising that they're reopening for COVID like, well, you missed out on seven weeks of trade. Guys.
Rob: Yes, sure. So we'll come back to Covid in a second. What I'd like to touch on before we get there is obviously husband and wife team. And had you guys worked previously together or was this a new concept?
Scott: No, we had worked together. We actually met at university. We lived in the same dorm. I was downstairs. Mel was upstairs. I spent a lot of time upstairs.
Rob: As we do sometimes.
Scott: Yeah. And we I was doing Mel's doing hotel management Bachelor of hospitality. I was doing food science and nutrition with the view of sort of getting into the sports nutrition and stuff like that. That degree didn't really head down the way that I thought it would. But in the meantime, we were working for a catering company just doing like roast. Stuff, very low grade stuff in the western suburbs of Sydney. But we were working together to pay off pay our way through uni and I was enjoying that more than I was my degree. And that's all about the decision to to start my apprenticeship at 20 rather than 15. And so, yeah, we had we'd always work together in that regard. And she's my best mate, you know, been best mates before we were going out. So sort of. It wasn't I was that that wasn't a big leap to make when we bought the business and got into it. Which I suppose. Kick started this business, Pearls, a lot quicker than it would otherwise would have. And we've got very complimentary sort of skill sets. My mine being more operational and obviously got more experience in restaurant trade Mel's was definitely more managerial. Human resources, all that sort of stuff. So we compliment each other quite well. I think it would be difficult to work with your partner if you're doing the same tasks like two chefs would be difficult two front of house would be difficult. But for us, it's either also we've kind of got all bases covered.
Rob: So I guess while you're working in the same business, you sort of have you your independent paths through the day
Scott: Very much so. Yeah, and there's always the sly look at each other when we cross those boundaries. It's like back off. And it's like, yep, yep, yep,
Rob: You'll hear about that when you get home
Scott: Well, that's another good Thing. We never take the the the stuff that happens at work, home, you know, and it's and it's inevitable. You you're gonna have that anyone knows anything about hospitalities the the us and them mentality from the floor in the kitchen. We don't allow that to happen in our restaurant. I suppose our relationships being front back further enforce that. And yeah, it's natural. We're going to have arguments and disagreements over certain things, but they're always resolved at work as work issues and never brought home as a as a couple issues.
Rob: And so extending that dynamic to your respective teams front of House and back of House teams. How important is is having that team play on both sides in terms of getting you know, I've worked in kitchens before, getting a dinner service out and, you know, having everyone in their right position, but also having that respect for chain of command. Like, how do you navigate that balance?
Scott: Yeah, well, it's a it's the utmost of importance, you know. You can with with we go to restaurants and you can you can tell when that's not right. Feel it as a customer. There's a real energy and a it's like a storm cloud hanging over the whole place. And also, I've been to restaurants where. It's exactly the opposite. And you have a much, much more enjoyable experience as a customer in the places that get along the days of the the chefs, you know, yelling and screaming, throwing hands at people and and being right with without any question of the long gone. You know, we're very much a family down there. We. We look after our people and they they look after us. It's pretty simple, simplistic attitude. But it's work for us for the last 20 years, we've got quite a small staff turnover, for hospitality especially, so, you know, it's not uncommon for chefs to be working for us for five, seven years before their situations change and they have to move on for other jobs or they move up to take on head chef roles in other restaurants or things like that. So it's generally never someone leaving because it's not working at work. It's because they are evolving and becoming, you know, the people they need to become. And that's because we build that team mentality, and the kitchen hand, you know, eighteen year old kitchen hand who comes in on the weekends to do the dishes or myself, you know, just as viable and have an impact on how we run our business. You know, we try to involve everyone and encourage our staff to eat out so they can see how other businesses are run and be a, you know, be integral in that, in our industry. Everyone has an input in the menu. So someone comes through the door and say, hey, I just went to this restaurant, I did this, this and this. And I said, that's a good idea. And, you know, we, we've got whiteboard markers and we write on the wall and might be just Lamb rump. And then someone else will write, You know, mint sauce. Okay, what do we do with mint sauce? Okay, I will. Let's turn it into a sorbet. Let's do this. Or, you know, or marinate or whatever, and it sort of spiders out and you know, in two weeks time, we'll have a dish that evolved from one person writing lamb rump on the, on the wall. It might be a chicken dish, by the time it gets there. But, you know, everyone is involved and, and doesn't feel that they can't have an input on that, on that wall. And sometimes it doesn't make sense. But. It's breeding that environment, which is sort of a big part of our success, I think.
Rob: And so there'd be a bit of a balance there between trying to foster loyalty and and sort of longevity with in terms of those people being involved with your business. But I can imagine you want to support that professional development and keep their skills sharp as well. How do you sort of strike that?
Scott: I suppose hiring the right people is the best first step. We've always been big believers trusting your gut. We've only ever made two decisions, I think, in our 20 years where we didn't trust our gut, where we had a gut feeling and went against it because we had seeked advice from someone else. And, And those two things didn't work out. So intuition in their hiring processes is pretty into integral with how we move forward. And I suppose the longer you're in business, the better you get at that sort of thing as well. Earlier on the piece, you sort of I was learning on the job as much as everyone else. So I think at the at the moment, I'm I'm in a stage where I'm sort of trying to. Extract myself from that day to day, nitty gritty, everything running myself and just sort of being a bit of an overseer still very much in the end zone. But I mean, used to be that I was, you know, doing everything and trying to do everything I can and realising now that you can't do everything. You have to, you know, let people have their reign and also use your skill sets more effectively as are more effective as a manager. If I can see the whole picture, rather than being stuck in one on, you know, bogged down doing, you know. Yeah, exactly. With my back to whatever's going on.
Rob: And so does that take a bit of like self-assessment and self actualise actualisation to see that happening before you?
Scott: Yeah, a little bit. Now think. I'm not I'm not a big sort of goal and ballistic sort of person, I'm I'm very physical hands on tactile person. So, you know, I can feel if we do service and it's not quite 100 per cent, it might be, you know, acceptable for most of the industry. But I'm not happy with it. And I feel a little bit uncomfortable about then, you know, I'll sit down and have a beer with the guys and we'll have a chat. I hate what happened tonight. You know, that didn't work or that did work or whatever it was. And invariably you get to a solution pretty quickly and it doesn't fester. And then the next day, it's like I go clear the air, got whatever was off our chests and we move forward on. And I might be a small edit to how we do things. Someone might not have spoken up when they felt they should over. You know, it's really simple stuff. So it's not terribly self analytical. On a personal level, but I think it's the business, the business entity in itself. And I suppose the good thing about having great staff is that they're very involved in in that analysing of what is good and what's not good. And I think you get influence in your people and they'll tell you, this isn't working for me. This is not for me. Get sorted out. Move on. But it's.
Rob: So, you know, obviously everything that you do come can be influenced, like whether it's right or wrong can be influenced by, say, a customer taste. And how important is it to in your industry? Listen to your customer and but also assess when they're right versus when maybe they're not.
Scott: Yeah, it's really important. You know, the old adage the customer is always right is wrong. That might sound arrogant, but it's true. You know, I've been cooking for nearly 30 years, and I do know a little bit about what I'm doing
Rob: Made mistakes, and I have
Scott: Just a litte Bit. So when someone comes in, they go, that's a well done steak. And I go, yeah, it's actually not it's a medium that, you know, you eat. It can't be that blunt with people. But I suppose. With the knowledge that, you know, you're right, then you can communicate to someone not in a degrading fashion, but more of an education fashion. And that's sort of the phase that I find myself professionally moving into now. Or doing engaging a bit more with with the customer having a chat. Being a direct link to him, like we get so many people with dietary complaints these days, I don't think there's a service that we do without someone being intolerant or at allergic to something. And my science sort of background comes has become very handy with regards to that. Initially, just having that little bit more knowledge of nutrition as so of really helped with that sort of thing. But instead of like. A customer communicating to a waitress that they are allergic to this, that and the other, and then that waitress coming back into me and then me communicating to the chefs, we just cut out the middleman. I go straight to the person. So I hope. What's your problem? What's your issue? And. They then have the confidence that. This guy knows what he's doing. Taking the time to come and talk to me and I think that's that evolution has been really important. But the next steps of our business and our we our board. what the first question was where we got to that one
Rob: Good answer anyway. It does, it doesn't matter.
Scott: Really enjoying that. That direct contact with customer and I think customers like it, too, know. We kind of. Chefs can be sort of pigeonholed as robots, sometimes it's stuck behind this wall, you know, burning and cutting ourselves. And all of a sudden food comes out. So it's nice to put a face behind it and to directly engage with with their criticisms as well as compliments. Thankfully, it is more of the latter. But, you know, you've got to wear those ones if you if they come.
Rob: Of course. And so, obviously, this brings us to an interesting topic around customer feedback and obviously in the digital age with e-commerce. And, you know, in retail environments, that sort of thing, they to something of a of a new sort of way of operating, of accepting that feedback and skewing accordingly. But in hospitality in particular. And even though the method has changed now and it might be a Facebook review as opposed to, I predict, right up in a newspaper like how has that environment changed? And have you guys had to do anything differently to accommodate that?
Scott: Not I suppose it's changed dramatically. I mean, everyone's a critic nowadays, and there's so many platforms for people to to air their grievances or or give compliment. Unfortunately. I think it's more the grievances that get put forward rather than compliments people who compliment and enjoy a meal, you know, leave a big tip. Thank you so much. Best meal we've ever heard. Blah, blah, blah. Which is amazing. And they'll leave and they might tell four people that they had a great experience. Someone who has a bad experience won't tell you, won't allow you to fix it there, and then might even still leave a tip, but then turn around five minutes later and give you a one star review on all of the.
Rob: While they skulking off to the kind
Scott: Yeah. Yeah. And it's like, oh. That could have been a problem we could have fixed so easily if. Or or or at least explain the scenario and explain to someone that you're actually not right on your grievance. This is what happened. That's what happened. They've got there will get a bit of an education and, you know, next time they'll know what to expect of whatever problem might have been. Yeah, the whole going and just blurting it to the world. And it's quiet can be quite venomous. Like, wait. It's a passion industry. We love what we do. And we really put a lot of hours and time and effort, blood, sweat and tears into it. And for someone to sort of shred you on a review, but not knowing what the hell you're doing it. It's you know, your first reaction is to get your back up. And then it hurts. You know, like Will will skew on a on a bad review for weeks and weeks and weeks. And you know it. Rightly or wrongly, it hurts is it's very difficult to deal with stuff like that. I often find that if someone's gonna go to the lengths some people do go to, thankfully we've got very few bad reviews Which is which is lovely. But if someone's willing to really bad mouth your business and go that far, it's one of those things that we try not to few. So I don't tend to. Try to appease someone. It's it's really I think it's gone too far. Generally at that stage, if someone's got a genuine complaint in the restaurant, then it's up. My always willing to to, you know, to own it. So, yep, we dropped the ball. How can we make it better?
Rob: But engaging online can just
Scott: Fuel to the fire on line. Yeah, I suppose that's the. The part of the. The industry, which is I don't I don't see a way forward. I don't see how we can rectify that because it's so easy for people to to jump on line and just ruin someone. And it's it's some of it's bullying. I've seen some restaurant use and it's just like, oh, wow, I don't. I know how upset I get when I get someone saying I'm stuck with steak was tough. So if someone completely destroys someone's personally would be really difficult to do. I don't know how how did how we move forward on that either, because it's it's so easy for people to jump online, do it. But I don't think there's any right answer as well. I know it's a really difficult one.
Rob: I mean, it's an interesting challenge. And particularly with reviews, I think there's a certain amount that people can recognise in in when they read other reviews. It is spiteful and and that it's just, you know, and you can see communities defend, defend people against some of those trolling behaviours, which is, you know, what good to see obviously doesn't happen all the time. But obviously, those reviews can be discounted quite easily. How has the sort of formal review process, say, from food critics, newspaper write ups? God write ups, that sort of thing? How is that evolved over that same period?
Scott: I don't know if it has. I think it's always been much the same. I mean, good or bad reviews, you've got to own them. And when when we've had some great reviews from some very respectful reviews and we've got bad reviews from some various reviewers as well. I don't think you can you can live and die by those reviews. I mean. One person coming into your restaurant, having one meal and judging your business isn't. It wasn't on my business plan all those years ago that appealing that guide my on my business plans about making as many of those our customers happy as we can. And then the people who keep coming back, they're the ones who pay the bills. Keep us. Keep us, you know, paying our staff and paying our landlord and and suppliers and all that sort of stuff. So you can concentrate so much on those review review scenarios, because it's sort of the esteem and the privilege that that's bestowed upon getting hats and all that sort of thing. But at the other day, it really doesn't matter. It's about keeping the customer happy and the general customer needs to be feel like they're being looked after. And especially, you know, when you're at the pointy end of the pyramid, like we are charging good money for the experience, they've got to go going. Wow, that was amazing. The luck of being treated like a king. And I suppose if you if you start steering your business towards a you know, we're gonna get a hat You know, we're gonna get this accolade. We're gonna get make sure we get in the you know, the Gourmet Traveller, or Delicious, or whatever magazine's trendy at the time. Then you're missing it. You're totally missing, you know, the customers, what it's about. Not the not the not the PR exercise. Hopefully, the PR exercise and success will come with keeping customers happy because obviously we're keeping ninety nine percent customers happy. You can have a lot of goodwill. You can have good PR on those websites and someone's going to see it. Yeah. Oh, hang on. We should look at these guys. We've always tried to keep fairly organic. For everything we do, we are real analogue business. We're not super tech savvy and we still do handwritten dockets for the kitchen. We we just sort of keep it really ma and pa old school style stuff. So the real direct contact with our customer, with our suppliers, landlord, everyone like that. So. When you start to sort of try to. Market towards reviewers. Think you lose that tactility of it? Not talking to a diner or you're talking to a you when it's a real different mindset. Our businesses won many accolades over the years. And our bottom line doesn't really change too much from when we haven't had these accolades and we have had these accolades, The only thing that changes is that we get an ego boost. And it gives us something to yell about when we do media stuff.
Rob: And sometimes that helps.
Scott: But most definitely it helps. But once again, I think. Your true repeat business customer wouldn't have a clue that whether I do have a hat or not. And they just go, Oh, we just love your restaurant that's what we come for, it's difficult game to play. And it's a game that a lot of restaurateurs play. And it's not a true indication of success. There's plenty of hatted restaurants that fall over, especially in the last five, 10 years. And there's plenty of restaurants that never get a write up anywhere. And they still keep on ticking along and you know, the owners of Drive Nice Car and live a very comfortable life, so
Rob: Yes, of course So on. On that topic of customer. Obviously the coast central coast has changed a lot in that period of 17 years of owning this restaurant. How have you seen the customer evolve? And have you had to adapt accordingly or you are always on that track?
Scott: We always wanted to evolve the restaurant. I came from a not a fine dine background, but a, you know, a casual fine dine background. And that's very much where we sort of see ourselves now. So when we moved to the coast, we started in cafe sort of scenario and. And that was very much of the of the of the people. There was the customers on the Central Coast were very casual diners. I think over the years that the amount of fine dining or finer dining dinosaurs increased with the migration of people from Sydney moving up here. I mean, it's all the coast has always been built on people wanting to get away from Sydney. So.
Rob: Maybe now they're doing it on a daily basis as opposed to weekend
Scott: Yeah, oh, that that in itself has changed the dynamic a little bit as well, because you've fought with you've always sort of had been the summer destination, Central Coast with beaches and whatnot. But I can think back when we first started, like the business midweek, business was a lot bigger than it is now. And I think a lot of that is because there's a lot of people who do commute to Sydney every day. And the last thing you want to do when you've been spending three hours a day on a train is then jump back in the car to drive to a restaurant, you know? And, you know, the coast is a big place. You've got you've got to travel wherever you go, you know, unless you live in, say, Terrigal and you can pop down from Terrigal. But to get to Pearl Beach from Terrigal is a half an hour drive. Someone's going to have to stop drinking
Rob: Proper destination.
Scott: At some start and end or taxis, 100 bucks each way, that sort of thing. So, you know, it's it works. It adds up. So therefore, the people sort of stopped concentrating their dining habits, I think, towards the weekends for restaurant, proper license, you know, fine dine restaurants. So that definitely has evolved out mentality. When we first started, one of our most popular dishes would have been fish and chips, which everyone knows and loves. My goal was to always get fish and chips off them. Any are just, you know, it throws the balance of them and you out, you know, selling 80 percent fish and chips, then you're only selling 20 percent of everything else. So the idea is we want to have a menu that's really balanced and everything sells fairly evenly. We evolve our menus quite a bit anyway. So once we got to that stage where I thought we were a pretty ensconced in in business, we had our heads around it. Good customer base. That was when we saw that I could start sort of really making some changes here and change, not massive changes, but model changes with, you know, where the weight of the menu is now towards smaller dishes entree sized dishes rather than the traditional entree main. So we call them small size, large dishes. The idea being, you know, three small dishes, weights to an entree and a main. A more formal setting. The idea being trying to get people to have that one extra taste, you know, you there's quite a bit of science behind the whole how we perceive flavour and taste.
Scott: And the theory is that, you know, you're having a nice 250 gram steak. You taste the first half and the back half of the best memory of the first half. So we're sort of trying to play off that and say, well, you taste the whole thing and then have a new taste. Then you having a whole new sensation and an overall experience. And that's evolution. Increased our skill sets and how we have had to learn more about a product we're constantly learning. We had to, like said, train staff and make sure we've got the right people here on the page to try to do better themselves and to be better. So all of those things are sort of fairly integral on the journey. We don't do anywhere near as many numbers as we used to do. It wouldn't be uncommon to do 120 covers for a Sunday lunch back in back when we first started. But the per heads were maybe 20 or 30 dollars a head. Now we're sort of doing. Now, 50, 60 covers and a something else. But our heads like a hundred hundred twenty a head. So we've worked off the increasing the per head spend offering more to the customer for that. And so the whole work smarter, not harder sorta thing.
Rob: So, I mean, obviously, we could probably go down this food science rabbit hole side of the business. But I think we'll probably run out of time pretty rapidly. So maybe hold that for another time. But obviously, as we mentioned at the start, COVID came along and knocked restaurants effectively overnight. And how rapidly did you guys give it to to keep things going? And was that, you know, how much effort went into that?
Scott: Yeah, and it's sort of we've only just I think I said last night to the guys will sort of finish scrubbing down the kitchen. And I said, okay, that's week seven. Done week 8. I and others guess that's. I think we're getting a head around it now. But it was massive. I mean, we kind of well that lead in with the reduction in how many people we could do. Like it was like one person per one and a half meters was the first reduction. And then then it went the next week it went to one person every four square meters. So we are mapping out how big a restaurant was, how many people we could fit in. And then it went to. No restaurant just take away. And and when when the reductions to one person, but one and a half metres the couple weeks before said the guys, I said, I think we're gonna have to start developing a takeaway menu. And there I went, Oh, yeah. Whatever. And I went, oh, OK. Maybe I've got that. Maybe I'm reading this wrong. And and then the reductions kept on growing and turned around. And I went, well, I was kind of fortunate that I'd already made that sort of mental step. So we may need to do this. I didn't seriously think that we would have to, especially not a week later. But here we are and Yeah. So, like I said, we we we finished service on Sunday night and then we're only open Thursday to Sunday lunch and you know, those four days. So Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Not open to the public, but those days with some pretty busy days for me, those three days getting getting a menu sorted. Packaging, that big thing that's, you know, totally rejigging you, how you approach food when it's not going on a nice plate and going into a box.
Rob: And on that topic, how how do you cater for that drastic change in customer experience in terms of brand integrity aspect, but also if they're taking food home and say it's, it's not hot when they get home. Like, how do you navigate those waters?
Scott: Yeah, it was pretty pretty. Muddy Waters, too. But I think more so in my own head. Not so much in customer experience. So we'll. My big thing was we've spent the last 20 years developing Pearls on the Beach who we are and and our customers all customers like love what we do. So for me, changing our model to doing burgers or pizzas or whatever, which is a you know, a traditional take away model, didn't make any sense whatsoever. It's like, well, that's like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It's you know, we've got to stay true to who we are and what we're about because otherwise we're just competing with everyone else. And we're kind of losing our customers that we've spent time building. But then the problem then lies there. How do you how do you do in a casual fine dining food in a box? Fortunately, our style of food is not finicky. You know, tweezered tortured food, it No,
Scott: Pretty robust.
Rob: Real food.
Scott: You know, Real food. Yeah. I watched you walk away from a dining experience, having tasted different flavour combinations and maybe some different ingredients. But essentially you'll feel satisfied so that we didn't have to combat that scenario. And we just wanted to keep it. Wanted to people to go home and have the Pearls, Pearls on the Beach, but at home, and that was the whole concept. First thing we did was a good friend of ours is a looks after our Web sites for us. And she said, what do I have to do for you to get you got up and going. For the take away. And I said, look, let's rebrand Pearls on the Beach. It was a simple strike through, our logo and putting at home. And then that sort of soon as we did that, it sort of clarified where we go, how we move forward. Getting the packaging right was important. Pearl Beach is a national trust village, very green. So we, you know, doing Chinese takeaway containers wasn't gonna cut it so we started doing Biodegradable cardboard scenario. They don't hold moist food very well. So we've got greaseproof liner underneath that. The idea being, you know, you take it out of the box. Slide it onto your plate at home. And our customers are amazing. Like in their first week, I think 80 percent of people were taking photos of their tables and sending it to us and saying, hey, look at us, we're having Pearls at home. So that was really cool. And it just really motivated us to be better and to do better. The first couple of weeks was difficult, more difficult, I think, because we'd had we've already had stock. You know, we know you can't just throw it out. So it's like repurposing food and go with certain dishes that weren't no way that could be done at home. Steak's was the biggest struggle we thought of, so. By time you cook a steak rest it. Put it in a box, take it home, it's either cold or overcooked. And so we made decisions. We're not doing steaks. It's that simple. Concentrate on what we knew would work and then sort of expand it out from there. We've been very fortunate cause Pearl beach is that little Hamlet, very affluent suburb. So we're lucky that we don't have to sort of compete on price bracket. We'd had quite a few people move up from Sydney to their holiday houses before the COVID thing. I think there's quite a bit of information going out to the CEOs of companies before a week before sort of thing for the shut down. And they'd seen the writing on the wall through their experiences in their offices overseas and whatnot So they they were moved up before it all really happened. And they weren't going anywhere. They used to dining. And what we do as well. So we've we've sort of we're in a bit of a bubble down there. And it's not lost on us for sure. Obviously, this is just us and a little take away general store across the road and we work really closely with them. As you know, they provide. Know burgers and fries in the general store scenario. We do the dining scenario, and I think it's it's been right. That's one of the upshots of the whole scenario, is how our relationships have been developing a lot more closely. Sort of can get a little bit stuck in you, your world and worry about what you do. But sort of it's what more community now I find like. We're working together a lot. We've always worked together well, but I think it's a bit more about we've got to get through this and there's a real camaraderie which is which has tied the community quite nicely. I feel a lot more connected to my customers than I than I ever did. And I'm not doing what we used to do. So that's sort of what's strange. But that's the positive to take out stuff.
Rob: I mean talking of relationships with their customers in particular. I think one thing that you mentioned there, which was quite interesting, was you're not just dealing with the immediate panic of transition. You're conscious of the snap back when things lift and things go back to normal and pow. How are you guys preparing for that? Outside of, you know, as we are saying, restrictions predicted to ease how are you planning for that return? And how how pivotal do you think the way that you've handled this transition period? How well, do you think that positions you for coming back out of it?
Scott: Yeah, I think that the the decision to stay true to our our style is definitely going to hold us in good stead. It's not going to be a massive transition menu wise. So that's a big part of. At business, you know, steering our business forward, so that's practical practicality side of things. I don't think it will be that massive, but we're probably not planning on opening the restaurant for sit down guests until. You know, we'd get to a stage where we're really under control for this and mentally we're thinking probably September. So. I can understand the guidelines that the government's laid out with regards to, you know, at the moment we're on Friday, I think we'll be going to we'll be able to have 10 customers seated in the restaurant, you can't run a restaurant on 10 people. So that's. You've got to look at those implementations is not a not a lot people getting really upset about, oh, we can't survive on that. It's like, well, you're not supposed to. This is a stepping stone. So if you've implemented a take away scenario for your restaurant, then keep doing your take away. I mean, for us, it's it's working. You know, we're we're probably doing nearly twice as many customers per service as we would as a restaurant. Keep I've said this to everyone who will listen to me is like I'm working twice as hard, but I'm getting half as much.
Rob: No, but it keeps the wheels turning.
Scott: It case wheels turning.. With. We've only we've got. One staff member that we've had to. Sort of we can't look after you. He's only been working for us for three months, so it wasn't about able to get the job keeper, everyone else's is employed and getting looked after. And that was our whole goal was about, you know, making sure that we don't lose anyone. They keep their families fed. We keep our landlord happy. There's another thing we got. Straight onto him. The first first couple of days of the whole scenario, Had chats with him about what how we move forward with rent and stuff like that. And they've been really good with that. So it being really open and honest about our situation. So we're not making money. No one's making money, but you can't sort of think about it that might set in. It's not about profiteering. It's about just making it through and trying not to go backwards. Having been in business for 20 years on the Central Coast, we're used to lean times, you know, winters terrible on the coast for restaurants. So with. Timing of the of the COVID thing has sort of been a little bit on our side. Moving forward, coming as some we've had a peak period. Yeah. With a lot of businesses rely on the Easter Mother's Day period. Anzac Day, which is which is normally quite lucrative, but it's our last hurrah before winter. So we've missed that. It could have been a hell of a lot worse. And, you know, I've got quite a few friends who got business and I keep going. Oh, but we're down this much last year or so. You can't look at that. You can't beat yourself up about Yeah, exactly. And you just got to keep moving forward. Look, look, look. The what what you can do. What not what you can't do. We've been very fortunate. We can still still open our doors and still feed the public and the people at Pearl Beach have been amazing. We're not getting a lot of people travelling to get the food, but we never thought we would. We thought if we get a few people from Patonga coming over, a few people from your Umina and most of Pearl Beach, that will get us through. And it seems to be moving in that direction moving forward in the next couple of months will be interesting. I think it will be you know, we'll start to struggle a bit more because obviously we'll get colder and stuff. But then I kind of think we'll maybe be. Maybe people don't have to have, you know, two or three people getting dressed up to go out to the restaurant and I can't be bothered bothered. You know, I said, send Dad, and his Trakkies and his and his UGG boots to pick up a bag, couple bags of food and go home and eat at home. So, you know, it might be it might be a good winter for us. I'm not too sure. But, yeah, it's it's been challenging, but I'm quite impressed with how we've risen to the challenge. I think it's some you know, when you've been in business, as long as we have, you can get a little complacent and you can get a little bit. We know at all that it was a little curveballs like this aren't necessarily a bad thing.
Rob: Maybe helps keep you sharp.
Scott: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. And I think there's lessons being learned and sort of skill sets that we will implement moving forward that will make a bit restaurant a better place, hopefully. So.
Rob: That's excellent. So we're coming up on time. But I've got a few quick questions that I'd love to answer. I'd love to ask you if I can.
Scott: No comment.
Rob: No comment. If you had to pick one moment in business that that taught you the most important lesson, what would that be? Can't be. Don't listen to your wife.
Scott: Listen to your wife, Trust your gut I mentioned it earlier. Yeah, get in tune with your gut and then trust it. And I think. We've got that, and I'm pretty happy with that. I don't know whether you can learn that. I'm not. I haven't done any self-help stuff, so I'm not too sure about all that, but I'm I'm assuming that the antithesis of that sort of thing is to try is to is to learn to be confident. Trust that confidence as well.
Rob: Sounds great. I would have to definitely agree with that one if you could pick a mentor anywhere in the world, who would it be and why?
Scott: The gentleman that I learnt the most about and I'd look back on how I am as a business person and how he was as a businessperson is probably a person. I learned the most about how to be a good manager and a good chef because he was systematic and and what not as a chef by the James Konstantinidis he's in Greece right now. I worked with him for a for a while in a little Greek taverna in Sydney called Never on Sunday. And James was excuse my French an Asshole of a human being to work for because he's a really aggro chef. He is one of those chefs. I talked a super, super passionate guy, very hotheaded. You know, everyone walked around on on eggshells with James around. I seem to get along really well with him. I think I put it back on him one day and he realised he couldn't stand over me. But an amazing manager suit cook knew how to implement systems like looking at a room and just, you know, really new business. So sort be interesting to sort of spend some time with James again, I reckon.
Rob: Interesting. And over a pretty good career. Is there one decision that you've made that you might have changed if you had your time again?
Scott: Not many. No, I'm pretty I'm never one to sort of look back back on things with regret. I sort of think where you make decisions you live with. You move forward on why you made that decision. It's plenty of. Business opportunities have come past us that we sort of said no on. And at the time I was like, oh, we probably shouldn't sit no on that. But then in hindsight, now I look at and go now. That was good decision not to get back to that gut thing, I suppose. You're not too many. No, no. Which is pretty cool.
Rob: And at the very least, you learn really important lesson.
Scott: Think that's it Yeah, it's you know, it sounds a bit wanky to say, you know, learned from the negative, but it's that that's the only way. You know, if you if you not, then you'd make it. Repeating those mistakes. And I don't think you stay in business very long if you do keep making those mistakes. So. Yeah.
Rob: Then they hold true.
Scott: Yeah. So Hopefully we'll learn from our future mistakes as well.
Rob: Fantastic. All right, so Scott Fox from Pearls on the Beach. Where can people find you rattle off your Web address? Anything
Scott: Yeah, it's Pearlsonthebeach.com.au You can check out Instagram. Pearl Beach restaurant? And Facebook.
Rob: Some really mean take away and hopefully some restaurant food soon
Scott: Well, they'll be looking forward to getting back and opening a door to that Beautiful view soon.
Rob: That sounds really good. Scott Fox, thanks so much for your time. We'll chat again soon.
Scott: Thank you.
Rob: There you have it. I hope you really enjoyed this episode. And if you did, please like it, share it, or leave us a review on your favourite platform. It helps us show more of this content to people just like you.