04/03/2010 - 00:00

Don’t believe everything you read

04/03/2010 - 00:00

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What you see is what you get at Chapter One Brasserie. Russell Quinn reports

Don’t believe everything you read

RUNNING a ‘fine dining’ restaurant may be something to which many in the hospitality business aspire, but it’s a label Jason and Hayley Walker have been trying to avoid for five years.

The Walkers have owned and operated Chapter One Brasserie on Hay Street since 2005, which the former Londoners define as a “comfortable yet casual place for good food and good service”.

Some early reviews, however, inaccurately labelled the brasserie as a fine dining establishment; and some of that has stuck.

Mr Walker, a professionally trained chef with experience under some of London’s most renowned chefs (including Marco Pierre White, Phil Howard, Pierre Koffmann and Eric Chavot) started in the kitchen at 16 years of age, and then job-hopped in his home town to gain maximum exposure to various cooking styles.

In Perth, he worked as head chef at Alto’s for three years before the couple decided to take the plunge and open their own restaurant, the first chapter of their business endeavours in Perth (hence the name), after purchasing the French-styled fine dining restaurant, Jacques, as a going concern for $65,000.

The couple has spent $50,000 fitting out the cosy venue over the past five years, which they say has needed a lot of work (including painting, new fixtures and artwork on the walls as well as a granite-top bar, plus $20,000 on a new stove) managed through reinvestment in the business at the cost of their own salaries.

But Mrs Walker says the fine dining label is something they never wanted and it’s been a source of frustration since they opened the doors.

“We think we’re perceived in a different light to what it is,” Mrs Walker says. “What you see is what you get with us.”

It’s a sentiment shared by her husband.

“We are what we are, we don’t pretend to be anything else,” Mr Walker told Gusto.

“Within three weeks of opening we had four reviews and everyone labelled it as the next fine dining restaurant; that’s not what we were trying to achieve.”

The pair constantly reinforces to their loyal clientele that Chapter One is a casual brasserie with patrons encouraged to occupy their tables all night if they wish.

They have also intentionally removed 10 seats from the floor (Chapter One seats 40 but is licensed for 50) to increase the level of comfort and the general mood of staff and customers.

“It’s not churn and burn,” Mr Walker says.

However, to ensure the level of service remains consistent (which they say is tough in Perth due to a shortage of quality staff) the couple has spent thousands of dollars committing to sponsor their head waiter and barista from Italy.

Chapter One now employs seven staff and turns over about $500,000 annually, but that’s after taking a significant hit a couple of years ago when they attempted an expansion of their business interests, spending more than $150,000 establishing Chapter Two, a small cafe in Dalkeith.

They soon realised it was not working and sold it for $77,000 despite implementing systems and procedures similar to those Mrs Walker developed for Chapter One.

Most importantly, Mr Walker, who admits to rushing in and paying too much, was spread across both locations and at one stage hadn’t seen his (then) newborn daughter in five days.

“Sometimes you have to take a loss to move forward and we are young enough to pay debt back,” Mrs Walker says.

“People would’ve stuck it out and lost everything ... so it’s a life lesson.”

That’s not to say they don’t thoroughly enjoy their ongoing work at Chapter One.

“A wise lady said if you can pay your bills at the end of the week doing something you love, life’s good,” Mrs Walker says.

 

 

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