North Beach business aims to replicate its established sibling’s success. Russell Quinn reports.
'TWO Sodas are better than one’ could be the mantra for the owners of a pair of seaside eateries, particularly considering their move to go into competition with each other.
And while some may view opening a second business just 100 metres from the original a high-wire act doomed to fail, the owners of Soda Café on West Coast Drive have no qualms about their decision.
Bridget LeGrove (as front of house) and her husband and executive chef, Ben Andrijasevich, made the move about six months ago when they opened the Soda Sun Lounge with their business partners, Greg and Fleur Gleeson.
The couples are behind the successful Soda Café on West Coast Drive, which they’ve operated for the past five years after Mr Andrijasevich left Nic Trimboli’s upmarket CBD eatery Balthazar where he’d spent six years as head chef.
Since 2005, Mr Andrijasevich and Ms LeGrove have owned a 50 per cent share with the Gleesons in Soda, which was opened on the site of the former Beachcomber burger and pizza business.
In July last year, the partners bought the old Pelican Bar located upstairs at the shopping centre on the corner of West Coast Drive and North Beach Road.
They renovated the extensive space before opening in October last year, spending about $200,000 removing an existing bar, creating a small private function area, installing new carpets and new decking for the balcony, and buying furniture to inspire communal and shared-meal dining.
Ms LeGrove says they did most of the fit-out work themselves to keep costs down, as they were concerned the site’s five-year lease wouldn’t allow for an adequate return on investment.
In retrospect, rolling the sleeves up may not have been the best idea considering Mr Andrijasevich’s ongoing problems after a surfing accident some years ago. (He is currently recovering from neck surgery last week to fix spinal fractures.)
Although running the cafe has its own challenges, including managing 30 staff and what Ms LeGrove describes as a “massive” annual turnover, which has grown more than 20 per cent each year, she says the temptation to makeover such an idyllic location was too great to ignore.
Ms LeGrove immediately loved the site when she saw the business for sale about 18 months before buying the site, but only approached the agent when the original $200,000 price tag fell by about 50 per cent.
Concerned about maintaining quality at the cafe and losing some of its customers to the Sun Lounge, the partners decided against transferring experienced staff from one to the other, embarking instead on an extensive recruitment drive.
However, after going through two head chefs at the Sun Lounge in its first three months (largely due to the couple’s high expectations) they began sharing the staff across both operations.
And the results have been promising, both in terms of food and service quality and the positive branding of both businesses.
Ms LeGrove predicts the Sun Lounge to turn over more than $1 million in its first year and says a third Soda offering in Perth may not be too far away.