After 14 years at Hillarys, Portofinos has found a new home overlooking the ocean at Mindarie. Russell Quinn reports.
THERE’S a saying about boys from the bush that goes something like, ‘You can take the boy out of the country but you can’t take the country out of the boy’.
Similarly, Norman Bogdanov believes that you can take the ‘porto’ (Italian for port or harbour) out of Portofinos but you can’t take the ‘fino’, or fine, out of it.
Mr Bogdanov, patriarch of the tight-knit family behind the popular Portofinos restaurant that overlooked Sorrento Quay at Hillarys Boat Harbour for 14 years, is referring to the recent closure of his original premises and the business’ migration north to Mindarie.
He says while there’s no port or harbour at the new Quinns Beach location, the food and service on offer is still of the highest calibre and of paramount importance to future success.
Mr Bogdanov and his three sons have spent five years building the new Portofinos, which includes a child-friendly cafe that has been trading for more than a year, and an upmarket restaurant and function centre overlooking the Indian Ocean that opened about a month ago.
He opened the cafe and restaurant-cum-function centre almost a year apart from each other to ensure the large-scale project operated smoothly from its inception.
“It’s a big project, 1,600 metres under structure, and we couldn’t open it all at once,” Mr Bogdanov says.
“The logistics of the staff and running this one (cafe) and running that one (restaurant and function centre), it wasn’t going to work.”
Mr Bogdanov initially intended to continue operating the Hillarys restaurant in tandem with the new Mindarie offering, which cost between $5 million and $10 million to complete with the help of George Milenkov Designs.
But a substantial increase in the rent at Hillarys forced him to change plans.
“After 14 years the lease was expiring and we tried negotiating a new lease with the landlord,” Mr Bogdanov says.
“I was paying a high rent but he (the landlord) more or less wanted to go double.”
Mr Bogdanov decided to pull the pin at Hillarys, vacating in mid-May, and is now planning an official launch of the new Portofinos shortly, potentially in line with the opening of a beer garden pending liquour licensing approval.
Contemplating the closure of his multi-million dollar Hillarys operation, one of the largest restaurants in Perth (seating 350 and employing up to 80 staff, including 15 chefs), Mr Bogdanov suggests it was the perseverance and support of his hard-working family and his own work ethic that kept him motivated and focused on ensuring Portofinos would remain a favourite.
It’s a determination to succeed that has spanned more than half a century, with Mr Bogdanov having arrived at Fremantle’s E-Shed in 1956 as a 14-year-old Macedonian refugee under the care of the Red Cross.
Working for Manjimup tobacco farmers in the late 1950s and then earthmoving up north during the 1960s led Mr Bogdanov to purchase a number of S&S Fruit Markets, including the Whitfords City market he managed for two decades.
“My sons grew up and the vegie shop wasn’t big enough to accommodate the whole family so I started looking for something else to buy,” he says.
Failed negotiations to secure the Kingsley Tavern led to the purchase of Reids on the Harbour in 1997 for “big money” although it required massive effort initially from the entire family to manage.
“We worked, persevered with it, we devoted our lives to it,” Mr Bogdanov says.
The family oriented Mr Bogdanov says the now-trademarked name ‘Portofinos’ was decided upon without anyone in the family realising the existence of the Italian Riviera town.
Interestingly, Mr Bogdanov and his wife are planning a trip there shortly as he reduces his role within the business.
“My sons have been with me from day one, they’re still here now, they run the place,” he says.