Benny’s Bar & Café is a unique business on South Terrace. Adam Orlando reports.
BENNY’S Bar & Café in Fremantle is not your average hospitality establishment.
Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner every night of the week, the venue operates as a cafe, restaurant, and nightclub, having retained an element of Fremantle’s traditional Italian flare and mixed it up with some delicious cafe-style dishes, contemporary fusion cuisine, and live music.
It’s also one of only three venues in Western Australia to have been granted a ‘special facilities liquor licence’.
Gusto understands that the rare licence, granted under the Liquor Licensing Act, is basically a blank canvas licence with a number of conditions.
But what makes this successful business even more unique is the near decade-long succession planning that led to its two young owners, Ivan Dzeba and Nelson Galvao, taking over from Benny Roncio almost three years ago.
Within a few years of their employment, Messrs Dzeba and Galvao were asked to buy a stake in the business, having already proved their business acumen by improving the quality of service and management style.
“We started off working here and I think we showed ourselves to Benny pretty much straight away that we were already leading the business in the right direction,” Mr Galvao told Gusto.
“There wasn’t really much of a handover process when we bought him out; we were pretty much in the same roles running the business, with Benny overseeing it back then, rather than Benny running the business.
“Because it’s been a nine-year process, when we first took over I don’t think we needed to do any major changes because the business really didn’t need any.
“All the big changes were done over that time, that nine years, but back then the culture of service was very poor and so we pretty much changed all our floor staff (and) focused quite a lot on training.
“What Benny started with the business back then and what we’ve got here right now is quite different, especially the food.
“Before it was very upmarket and very modern style of food, and the costs to produce that food was very high. Now we have gone for the simpler, more Italian-based cuisine, because there is more of a demand for that style of food.
“Fremantle is all about good food, for a good price, and quick service, and we recognised that.”
Mr Dzeba said despite the previous management’s original plans to bring upmarket fare to Fremantle, there was no demand for it.
“They had some great ideas for the menu back then, but it just wasn’t right for this environment, in Fremantle,” he said.
“Fremantle is very simple type of food, with a relaxed and laid-back atmosphere.
“You can’t push something that there’s no demand for, and there was no demand for upmarket food.”
Mr Dzeba said the smooth transition had made it easier to make change when change was needed.
“What made it easier was that when we started working here, we were always the ones to come up with ideas, and say ‘let’s do this, Benny I think we should do this’ and he’ll say, ‘okay let’s give it a shot’,” Mr Dzeba said.
“I can’t remember a time when Benny said, ‘let’s not do it’. He was happy with us doing what we were doing, but if there were any issues, if you started doing stupid stuff then he’d come in and say ‘hey mate, what are you doing?’
“Nelson and I are now the face of Benny’s and I think with a business like ours you need to be at the front, a place like this needs a face, and that’s us.
“People recognise Benny’s now as myself and Nelson, so we remain hands-on with staff and we are working with the staff so customers feel like it is familiar and relaxed.”
With half of Benny’s 45 employees having been part of the business for more than seven years, and head chef Luis De Lira there for nine, Mr Galvao and Mr Dzeba believe training and recruiting the right staff to be their most important investment.