Mandurah cafe/restaurant provides thet ‘home away from home’ feel. Adam Orlando reports.
THE theme song of 1980s hit comedy series Cheers famously says, ‘Wouldn’t you like to get away? Sometimes you want to go, where everybody knows your name’.
While many restaurants have tried to capture that sentiment, the ongoing struggle to retain quality hospitality staff means most have fallen short of the mark.
Paparazzi Cafe Restaurant takes its focus on familiar faces one step further, with the eight-year-old Mandurah-based business run as an extended family operation.
Since 2002, Mario and Rosa Messimeo have owned the Italian-style restaurant with their sons, Damien and Julian, as well as their daughter Rosina.
Mr Messimeo takes care of the entertainment, playing the accordion or keyboard most nights; Mrs Messimeo is administrator and bookkeeper, often making pizzas, too; Damien is head chef; and Julian and Rosina run front-end operations.
Despite the lack of a formal business strategy or plan, the Messimeos run a seamless operation with each family member understanding their respective roles, operating the venue as if customers are visitors to the Messimeos’ home.
Everything from the rustic décor to the generous home-style Italian cooking – where everything that can be made on the premises is – is a reminder that dining at Paparazzi is much like dining at the Messimeos’ family home.
“We like to be hospitable; sometimes there might be a couple of people left at the end of the night and if we’re sitting around with the family we ask them to join us, so they might just casually join us for a drink or a coffee,” Mrs Messimeo told Gusto.
“And if it’s people we already know, Mario might bring out his accordion and use it at the end of the night so we make the business a real home.”
Damien says the way the “family feel” marries with Paparazzi’s unique entertainment is a major drawcard, even to customers from Perth and Fremantle, who frequent the establishment all year round.
“It’s all about creating a theme and an atmosphere,” he says.
“The food is more or less what we’ve been brought up on as a kid, it’s the food I was brought up on, and with dad playing music, well, I’ve always had music around, so to share it with people who wouldn’t normally have that is a big bonus for them [customers].”
Damien says the genuine, family atmosphere has attracted people to the venue since 2002.
“We are the business, we make the business. If you take us out of the equation, it just wouldn’t work,” he told Gusto.
“No way in the world.”
Through old-fashioned hard work and word of mouth, the Messimeos have created a successful business with many repeat customers, most who are known to the family but all referred to as ‘friends’.
Mrs Messimeo says the family dynamic works well because there are always people to draw on if someone is unavailable for a shift, but more importantly all the staff are working towards a common goal.
However, she says there is more to building a rapport with customers than just knowing their name.
“You have to be honest, but you have to start a friendship with your customers as well,” Mrs Messimeo says.
“When they come in you have to start calling them by their first name.
“Eventually they come back to see the family, because it’s a family-orientated business, and I think people like that in a restaurant; it has that as a base and that keeps it stronger.
“We have Mario’s entertainment, which is a real plus to the restaurant and people really do seem to enjoy it.”
The influence of family on Paparazzi began when Damien qualified as a chef in 1998.
After undertaking his apprenticeship at Lynwood Arms Hotel, he worked in upmarket Perth venues such as Subiaco-based The Vic Hotel, South Perth-based Cocos, and Subiaco-based Cafe Di Rocco, which is owned by his cousin.
“I didn’t learn too much from these other places, the most I learned was at my cousin’s place, which was for about five years,” Damien says.
“He taught me how to run the business and how to just hone my Italian cooking skills.
“I mean, I picked up skills like from the first chef I worked with at the Lynwood Arms Hotel; he taught me how to be disciplined and taught me time management in the kitchen. Basically he taught me how to manage my time better, preparation and things like that.
“My cousin taught me the home-style Italian cooking; he taught me how to run the business, all the ins and outs of running a small business.”
While the issue of succession planning sometimes pops up in conversation over dinner, the Messimeos have not formed a particular plan or given the idea much thought.
Both Mrs Messimeo and Damien remain focused on keeping the restaurant busy.
“You’re always competing with other restaurants, but we’re there to complement each other really,” Damien says.
“If you have people in a relatively small area like Mandurah, who can only go to one place, at the end of the day they’re going to get bored of that.
“They need to go to other places so they can compare themselves.
“Competition is good, that’s what you want, and competition makes you become a better business and makes you want to strive to be a better restaurant.”
“At the moment we’re not concerned with succession planning or any of that business, we just want to be the best we can be.”