How does running a restaurant in a regional area compare to a metropolitan one? Two regional restaurateurs discuss the challenges and opportunities they face.
Chloe Proud is the co-owner of Ethos Eat Drink in Hobart (ethoseatdrink.com). She was a national finalist in the 2013 Electrolux Australian Young Restaurateur.
Does your location result in supply challenges? If so, how do you address these?
Our entire business is centred around supporting small-scale local suppliers within seasons, so one of our biggest challenges comes when climatic conditions compromise supply. This year we’ve twice seen sudden frosts thwart vegetable stock. In these circumstances, we’re very thankful that we work hard to pickle, ferment and preserve vegetables in season so we have products available to work with [year-round].
Despite our state being renowned for it, sourcing high quality, sustainable stock of seafood and meat can be a huge challenge. As much of these products are in high demand for high prices interstate and overseas, simply finding an affordable, top quality product can be very difficult. It seems the ultimate irony to me that you can buy frozen Tasmanian scallops from China cheaper than you can fresh within the state.
Sometimes bountiful supplies can pose as much of a conceptual challenge as limitations. It requires forethought and patience to develop appropriate strategies. For example, we had a huge oversupply of King George Whiting, so we’ve pickled three-quarters of it so we can use it later on.
Do you face any staffing challenges because you’re outside of a major metropolitan area?
Ethos is lucky in this department. For the most part, and now we have operated for over two years and know our limitations, we’ve been able to offer career-driven individuals sustainable and full-time positions or permanent roles.
In order to keep skilled industry members within this state, we as employers have to offer them a progressive, stimulating and developmental working environment. This is one of my biggest focuses as their manager. However, despite this, there is a collective sentiment of other business owners that it’s difficult to find and keep dedicated industry members from the lure of the bigger cities and institutions in Australia.
For example, if a restaurateur has a very promising young staff member who could be a fantastic sommelier, there are no cost effective options in Tasmania [to develop her talent]. The only option is to send her to Melbourne or Sydney, however, this is impossible due to the cost involved. The only thing we as managers can offer her is the support of existing professionals in order to sit, learn and engage.
That said, as a younger generation is emerging and taking the helm, more exciting and inspiring opportunities are arising. I hope the diversity that is now emerging as a consequence will contribute to a change in sentiment in Tasmania pertaining to career opportunities and the potential for this large proponent of Tasmanian tourism to thrive.
Do you feel you have access to a more unique array of produce?
We are pretty blessed in that we have a lot of producers who collaborate with Ethos to provide customised products. Therefore, we access high quality local food that is specific to us and, increasingly, produced by our staff. Ethos now produces our own charcuterie, cheeses and vegetables from custom reared and butchered meats, specialised milk suppliers and from our own courtyard gardens and acreage out of the city.
We work directly with other producers to hone our processes and have specific seeds harvested for us and breeds of animals farmed. The story of these products and what makes them special forms the basis of our service. Without being preachy about the environmental, economical and social benefits of operating this way, it gives us an exciting and theatrical point of difference to execute through service. I feel this benefits us hugely and allows our audience to have a greater connection to the staff, products and restaurant.
Does your business benefit from being in a tourist hotspot?
Hobart is slightly polarised in that respect. While Tasmania is a booming tourist destination, we still have the luxury of a local dining demographic that seek and support the ends we strive towards. We find perceptions and expectations of dining, food and locality are shifting the more visitors come and celebrate what restaurants like Ethos have to offer.
I think there is excitement and pride in Tasmanians, particularly Hobartians. There’s a palpable sentiment that our produce and culinary landscape will be an increasingly defining feature of the state. The demographic we have accessed is supportive, inspired by and always excited to be involved in the next steps of a burgeoning food community in their region.