A restaurant industry stalwart wants to bring some European practices to the local scene, just as he did more than 50 years ago, as Julie-anne Sprague reports.

THE entrance wall of Frank Sabbadini’s La Tosca Trattoria Pizzeria is an impressive display of the recognition that follows a lifetime’s dedication to the restaurant industry. The wall is adorned with industry accolades, including Mr Sabbadini’s most recent acknowledgment, the Alinta Gas Restaurant and Catering Industry Association Hall of Fame Award.

He was inducted into the hall of fame last month in recognition of his support of the restaurant industry.

Mr Sabbadini has worked in the industry for 50 years and, on reflection, says his greatest support came in the form of battles rather than triumphs.

“I was with the RCIA for 15 years, both State and national, and always fought for the industry. I didn’t have too many wins because of the narrow mindedness of the politicians,” he says.

Mr Sabbadini says Perth’s restaurant industry is on its knees, not just as some would think because of the rising cost of living and an impending rise in labour costs, but due to the ease of access to the industry and training inadequacies.

“Every Tom, Dick, and Harry can open a restaurant, and who pays the price? The public does. The public deserves better. Eating is not an amenity, it is a pleasure,” he says.

“There are too many imposters in this business and what is really crazy is that to get a restaurant licence you have to sit a test for liquor licensing but you don’t need to sit one to cook the food.

“Before people enter this industry they should have to have expertise or learn it and sit for exams.”

Mr Sabbadini says Perth’s restaurant industry needs to adopt a policy similar to those operating in Europe, where prospective restaurateurs have to sit oral and written exams covering storage and handling, accounting, industrial relations, staff management, and liquor laws. The low barrier to entry has created an oversupply of restaurants, he says, which has driven the price of restaurant food up and eroded many career paths.

“In Rome there are 840 restaurants for 3.5 million people,” Mr Sabbadini says.

“In Perth there are over 2,000 restaurants. How can we make a living? There are so many restaurants that there is no consistency of clientele.

“How can we give people a proper career path when we can’t employ them full-time?’

Abolishing the current apprenticeship program is something Mr Sabbadini sees as creating more professionalism.

“Have a school where they learn about the industry for 12 months. If they are not cut out for the industry then tell them,” he says.

“Then give a three-year pre-apprenticeship with a proper qualified employer with schooling at the same time.”

Mr Sabbadini started his restaurant career in Northbridge, opening The Spaghetti House on Lake Street (now the Emperor’s Court). He has been recognised as the main driver behind the push for alfresco dining in Perth, another major battle for the Italian restaurateur.

Perth and Northbridge restaurant owners recently received alfresco renewal fees, which have risen 375 per cent in three years. Another example of the way costs are impeding businesses, Mr Sabbadini says.

“Politicians have failed to be guided by other countries where tourism is the major income,” he says.

Mr Sabbadini left the Northbridge precinct in the early 1980s and opened Sabbadini Al Fogolar in Claremont, which he operated for over a decade. After leaving for a hotel ownership stint in Italy, he returned to set up La Tosca in Osborne Park, a conscious decision to keep away from the hub of “a million other cafes and restaurants”.

“People come here for the food. I’m a food man and I do the best for my clients,” he says.

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