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MICHAEL De Marte has no regrets about his decision more than four years ago to turn his back on a successful real estate career and try his hand at hospitality.

Mr De Marte and his brother, Frank, have created a restaurant institution in the chic Café Bocca in Shafto Lane.

And building up hospitality success hasn’t stopped there.

About 10 months ago the pair launched St Georges Terrace-based cafe business Rosso Espresso and plans are afoot for a second operation. And a pasta and pizza store on the terrace is in the mix, too.

“We were the third operator in two years to come into this site (Café Bocca) and we’ve made it work because we changed the equation. We’ve used the space well and we’ve got this great alfresco area,” Mr De Marte says.

Mr De Marte came across the Bocca site while working in the real estate industry and said his initial research on the site’s potential capabilities is evident in today’s busy lunch trade.

“I like the site because of the tranquillity and that alfresco area. This spot is unique to the city because you are in the middle of everything but at the same time you are tucked away,” he says.

“It is a destination location and it is much easier now.

“Earlier on it was hard and we were the pioneers of the west-end.

“Bocca is based on a Melbourne-style restaurant. I had this frustration in Perth at the time to get fresh, light, modern Italian food, but in the city there was nowhere.”

Mr De Marte says about 60 per cent of his customers are regulars, with many of his clients working in the property industry.

Mr De Marte says the success of Bocca comes down to simple basics of good customer service, quality food and value for money.

“After three years Bocca is still all about keeping it fresh and light and providing good quality food and service for value for money,” he says.

“People appreciate customer service. They appreciate that you know who they are. About 60 per cent of our trade is regulars. They should be appreciated and who better to do that than me?

“I’ve been busy building up Rosso the past 12 months but now that I am back at Bocca, customers tell me they are glad to see me here.”

Mr De Marte says his family’s heavy involvement is a key factor in the business’s success.

“What has made this work really well is the involvement of Frank and my mum. Frank is an accountant and has gold and diamond interests but he looks after the finance and I look after the business,” he says.

“My mother is behind the bar and helps with service.”

And business couldn’t be better, according to Mr De Marte.

“We’re up 18 per cent on last July and we’ve had the worst weather this winter,” he told Gusto. 

“Now we’re going to start pushing for functions and we’ve just launched outside catering.

“We recently signed up to do the function and bar food a the new Niche bar in Leederville. We prepare everything here and they cook it over there.”

One of the De Marte family’s two planned operations – a second Rosso Espresso and a pasta/pizza concept – will be finalised by the end of the year, with the other to be put on hold until 2004.

“We’re looking for a site to do a Rosso. We are deciding between two sites. One in West Perth and one in the west-end of town,” Mr De Marte says.

“The pasta and pizza concept is quite exciting and we are negotiating on two sites. Which site we get first, for the Rosso or the pasta concept, will determine which one we do first. 

“We hope to secure the site and the deal in the next three months and start building in February. We’d then look to do the other site next year.”

Meanwhile, continuing to refine Bocca’s lunch trade was a priority.

“We are looking at putting on a one-hour lunch service,” Mr De Marte says.

“We meet them, seat them, service them, and say bye within an hour, because a lot of office workers want that. But at the same time, if they want to stay longer then they can stay longer … it’s completely up to them. But we’re still working on that concept.”

Mr De Marte says changing careers from real estate to hospitality has been worthwhile, particularly given that his businesses are structured around a Monday to Friday week, with no nights. 

“We’ve based the business around our lifestyle. We don’t work nights and we don’t work weekends. I am very lucky. This is going very well and I’ve got great hours,” he says.

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