23/11/2011 - 10:57

A Sentinel of good taste

23/11/2011 - 10:57


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Hospitality veteran Steve Scaffidi has stayed true to his convictions of what it takes to operate a successful bistro in the CBD. Emily Morgan reports.

A Sentinel of good taste

Hospitality veteran Steve Scaffidi has stayed true to his convictions of what it takes to operate a successful bistro in the CBD. Emily Morgan reports.

It is true that the southern wall of Sentinel Bar and Grill is adorned with a cowhide artwork that follows the restaurant’s sharp corners towards the kitchen, but don’t be fooled with idle imagery, this is no steak house.

Sentinel’s owner Steve Scaffidi almost laughs at the common misconception that his latest venture is all about beef.

“Sentinel is still very Mediterranean, it has a French bistro angle to it, we have a grill component to our menu, which was lacking in the CBD, so I answered that but never set out to be, as most people perceived us to be, a steak restaurant, or fine dining,” he says.

Having strength in his convictions and staying true to his plans for Sentinel rather than succumbing to public pre-conceptions has played an important part in Mr Scaffidi expanding the bistro.

He calls Sentinel his last shot in Perth and is putting everything he’s got into making it work.

“We had a great honeymoon period here, but the most important thing above that is building a foundation, building an objective and goal in what we want to create, and that takes time,” he says.

That goal is about delivering good food and wine with good service in a good-looking venue.

A year into Sentinel and things are going to plan for the hospitality veteran; he recalls a similar timeframe for establishing his first restaurant, Alto’s, which he established in Subiaco in the 1990s.

“It makes me really excited about what is going to happen next year. We are going to set ourselves up as one of the great places to eat in the CBD,” he says.

Mr Scaffidi ran Alto’s for nine years before selling it to focus on new challenge, Bar One, which had at that time been operating at the base of QV1 for 12 months.

It took a while for Mr Scaffidi to fall in love with Bar One after amicably buying out his business partner, Geoff Haywood, who went on to focus on the Brisbane Hotel. 

The 7am starts and all-day offerings were a new challenge for Mr Scaffidi.

“It would operate 16 hours a day so to try and transfer and not compromise on service, food, coffee and wine for 14 to 16 hours a day was a tremendous challenge,” he says.

“Alto’s was based on a traditional restaurant formula to open at lunch, close at 3, open at 6, close at 10. They were very different businesses ... it took me a while to fall in love with Bar One because I needed to understand that.”

Before long though, Bar One was chiselled into what is described by the effervescent hospitality operator as a “hybrid” operation – a kind of chameleon that becomes what the customer wants depending on the time of the day – and the same formula applies at Sentinel.

“Sentinel can be as much as you want it to be and as little as you want it to be,” he says.

And, despite the similarities between Mr Scaffidi’s ventures, he is not concerned about vying for customers.

“Business people in Perth won’t walk over 100 metres for lunch, I was never concerned about taking my own clientele away from Bar One,” he says.

“Bar One is 300 metres up the road, but they won’t walk past 100 metres. I knew there were enough city people in the block and there would still be clientele at Bar One.”

Opportunities existed in running two similarly styled venues as well; having two under management provided the right economics to allow for administrative indulgences like human resources and public relations, which Mr Scaffidi said were not as viable when running one venue.

A similar vein runs through the Sentinel and Bar One operations, both designed by the same architect, but Mr Scaffidi still sees shades of Alto’s in his third venue.

“Alto’s was such a dark, ambient type of aesthetic and here we have used a lot more walnut wood and I think it is quite masculine. I didn’t set out to build a really masculine bistro bar, but subconsciously it happened that way,” he says.

“You’re in the middle of the city, on St Georges Terrace, surrounded by all these buildings and I think we needed to be quite strong and identifiable.”

As for moving on from the city, coffee lovers and diners alike can rest assured Mr Scaffidi has no plans when it comes to selling.


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