French couple in Freo struggle to get their heads around WA’s archaic trading hours, and the shortage of ‘fresh’ produce. Adam Orlando reports.
HOSPITALITY entrepreneurs Frederic and Letitia Zerchoore crossed a few cultural barriers to establish their fine dining restaurant, Great Mellie, in Fremantle nearly three years ago.
It was arguably the first establishment to offer modern French cuisine in a tourism precinct dominated by Italian and Asian outlets.
But with four decades of hospitality experience between them, the industrial relations system and strict trading hours posed a bigger barrier than any other, including any potential language difficulties.
Lyon-born chef, Mr Zerchoore has 25 years' experience in hospitality working in kitchens throughout France, Hong Kong and Tokyo, while Mrs Zerchoore has enjoyed 15 years in the industry, including a long stint with The Shangrila Group.
“I would say first of all one of the big challenges has been the labour, the labour system here," Mrs Zerchoore told Gusto.
“It's taken us a while to understand it, as foreigners, and on the chef side, it's very frustrating to realise a lot of good local produce, fresh local produce is exported and not available to locals.
“This is a major thing that came as a shock. When Frederic was working in Tokyo a lot of the good products over there came from this area, in WA.
“But unfortunately once we were here, his first menu that he created in Tokyo cannot be used because what he wants to get is not available here.
“We still manage to get some of the products that we want, but not all.
“Freshness is a very, very different concept from where we come from in Hong Kong or Tokyo.
“In our minds, fresh means alive. It's very different over here, here everything is frozen."
Mr Zerchoore agreed that the local industry's concept of fresh produce, particularly seafood, was much different to the regions he had worked in over the years.
“There's also the issue of consistency; sometimes it's imported from China or then Japan, it's always very different quality," he told Gusto.
“I think it's because there is no market for it over here; it's too small a market so everything tends to get exported.
“I worry when the produce is frozen and it's not fresh in terms of quality, but we just have to deal with it."
Compounding the issue according to Mr Zerchoore is the fact that local suppliers require a minimum order of about $200 or more, which was often too much for Great Mellie, which only seats 40 patrons.
“We have to be more organised to get the produce we want, so for us it's very hard to manage this," he says.
Mrs Zerchoore says while the difficulties in obtaining fresh local produce are an ongoing challenge, the business is frustrated by the state's draconian laws regarding trading hours and the complex awards system.
“There are so many awards over here, they always keep changing, and there are so many different rates," she says.
“There's a weekdays rate, then there's penalties on Sunday trading and Saturday, and then public holidays.
“Where we come from is like a metropolitan city and you don't see people closed on Saturday or Sunday, it's non-stop and if you look at it from a consumer point of view, everybody (like office people) is off on a Sunday, usually.
“But where are they going to shop then if everything is closed on a Sunday?
“It's a very different perception and concept here. Where I come from, I was born and raised in Hong Kong, you don't have too many different hourly rates, like when you work on Saturday and Sunday you compensate people with a day off on a weekday.
“In a sense, as an employer I don't have to open on these days, why should I when I have to pay more?"
Mrs Zerchoore says Great Mellie doesn't open on Sundays because of costs involved with paying penalties.
“The city is dead. Fremantle is a tourism area and you want tourists to come into the town, you want them to be able to come out any time, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, throughout the week, but everything is shut early," she says.
“These issues that we encounter here, you don't find it in Hong Kong, you don't find it in Tokyo, but it's how it is here, what can we say?"