27/09/2013 - 13:26

Latasha’s still cooking

27/09/2013 - 13:26

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The lack of a bricks and mortar shopfront hasn’t stopped one determined Perth businesswoman.

Latasha’s still cooking
POSITIVE OUTCOME: Latasha Menon says being forced to close her Leederville restaurant after 10 years because of high rents has been a blessing in disguise. Photo: Attila Csaszar

THE founder of one of Leederville’s most iconic restaurants says closing the doors after years of rising rents could be the best business decision she has made.

Latasha’s Kitchen was a highlight of Leederville’s culinary fabric for almost a decade before closing earlier this year.

The restaurant had gained a strong following for Latahsa Menon’s authentic home-cooked style of food and cooking classes, which combined her Malaysian heritage with influences from all over southern and South-East Asia.

Mrs Menon told Gusto people were so enthusiastic about the flavours she brought to the table they insisted she ‘bottle’ them to help them recreate her curries at home.

So as her landlord continued to increase her rent, Mrs Menon began investigating the feasibility of retailing her curry pastes and condiments as an added revenue stream.

In 2003, when the restaurant opened, Mrs Menon was paying $30,750 a year for the 84 square metre premises on Newcastle Street; five years later that had increased by 70 per cent to $52,000.

By the time the lease was due to expire in July of this year the new rental figure had grown to $67,200, which Mrs Menon says was simply unsustainable for her business.

“At that point we just couldn’t continue; there’s no way we could have operated with that and so we decided it was time to go,” she says.

Mrs Menon claims hers is not a unique situation, as many businesses have changed hands during her decade in Leederville and key locations now stand empty.

“They still haven’t got anyone in my old premises,” she says.

“Nothing seems to be very sustainable (in Leederville) if you’re an owner-operator doing a small thing.

“The only things that are sustainable there are if you’re a property company, a franchise, or have a liquor licence.”

The decision to close hasn’t hampered Mrs Menon’s business, however, as Latasha’s Kitchen is now thriving thanks to the recently established retail arm.

Mrs Menon has entered into an agreement with a commercial kitchen on the east coast, allowing her to travel there up to four times a year to cook batches of her curry pastes.

The first lines of her pastes and condiments were made in February and April this year, and Mrs Menon will return in October to cook up another batch – between 500 and 800 jars of each type.

About 30 retailers around Perth – including a numnber of IGA outlets – are now stocking Latasha’s Kitchen products, exposure Mrs Menon says resulted largely from her early marketing efforts at farmers markets across the city.

She says selling at markets in Kyilla, Subiaco, Palmyra and South Fremantle has enabled her to gauge where consumer demand is strongest geographically, and therefore, which retailers she should approach.

But she also says it has helped her avoid the high costs of operating from a bricks and mortar store and the dependence on customer foot traffic.

 “You are out there in the open, people are coming to the market and doing all their shopping there; whereas (having your own shop) you’re so dependent on them stopping at you and not (somewhere else),” Ms Menon says.

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