05/11/2009 - 00:00

Empire builder

05/11/2009 - 00:00


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Pizza master to open new business on the site of a Leederville favourite. Russell Quinn reports.

Empire builder

IMAGINE paying $200,000 for a popular burger bar in the heart of Leederville with the sole intention of turning it into a gourmet pizzeria.

Then imagine that the burger joint was expected to deliver increasing profits without a further dollar being spent.

In light of such a positive outlook, some proprietors may reconsider the pizza parlour plans and persist with the successful burger joint.

But Little Caesar’s Pizzeria owner, Theo Kalogeracos, is not your run-of-the-mill proprietor.

“I’m not a burger guy,” he says.

For the uninitiated, Mr Kalogeracos is among Australia’s best pizza makers, with his dessert style pizzas, such as the ‘upside down lemon cheesecake’ (don’t be put off, it’s delicious), securing numerous international awards including the pizza industry’s ultimate trophy, the America’s Plate in a competition in New York in 2004.

Mr Kalogeracos recently bought Retro Betty’s on Oxford Street, the main strip of trendy Leederville, from its founder and owner, Michael Wiss.

“I basically purchased a lease, and I may be disappointing some burger fans but none more so than my little boy,” Mr Kalogeracos says.

“He’s 11 and when I told him I was closing down Retro he was gutted.”

Mr Kalogeracos spent $95,000 on the existing plant and equipment and about $100,000 as a goodwill component to expand his Little Caesar’s empire from its current base, a very popular 25-seat offering on Great Eastern Highway in Mundaring.

Mr Wiss says he went to market assuming someone would buy Retro and continue running it as is, but the “uncanny” similarities with Little Caesar’s, such as the store’s size, staff and client base meant the transaction could occur.

“In some ways I’m disappointed that Retro Betty’s will be closing for good, but in other ways it started with me and finished with me, which is nice,” Mr Wiss told Gusto.

In the next few weeks, Retro Betty’s will be dismantled and rebranded as Little Caesar’s Pizzeria. A few hundred thousand dollars has already been spent on the fit-out including a new floor and drainage works (which have already been completed) as well as new booths, tables and chairs, all of which have been fabricated off site to ensure their installation can occur quickly and smoothly.

“I’m basically going to replicate the store in Mundaring,” Mr Kalogeracos says.

“I’ve been working on systems on my shop for 14 years now, so it’s irrelevant if I’m there or not; it (the pizza) will taste exactly the same.

“The test was in Jakarta and it works, so that was really important to work on.”

Mr Kalogeracos is referring to the first stage of his overseas expansion.

Three years ago he struck up a licensing agreement (not a franchise which he calls a “dirty word”) with a pair of Indonesian chemical engineers (and former customers) looking for a career change. The deal involved a one-off $150,000 fee paid in four stages to ensure client satisfaction, which is about half the cost of a traditional pizza franchise, resulting in two Pizza Boutique stores in southern Jakarta with profits remaining offshore.

Mr Kalogeracos plans to do the same thing in Vietnam in January with interested parties there keen to replicate Little Caesar’s success.

“And I’ve spent two years working in Shanghai, I want to do what we’re doing here over there,” he says.

Mr Kalogeracos also released a pizza cook book last year (currently on its third print run), plans to launch a pizza oven and also hopes to supply IGA supermarkets with his pizza bases, sauces and cheeses in the near future.

And he says he’s just getting started.



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