21/09/2011 - 10:44

Mediterranean on the Indian

21/09/2011 - 10:44


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Travel provided the inspiration for Vanessa Phillipson to start her own hospitality business, and it seems a tapas bar was just what Rockingham was crying out for. Carolyn Herbert reports.

Mediterranean on the Indian
GOOD START: Vanessa Phillipson won a Gold Plate award last year for Rustico Tapas & Bar after just six months in business. Photo: Grant Currall

JUST six months into running her first business, Rustico Tapas & Bar, general manager Vanessa Phillipson beat all comers to win the Gold Plate award for Mediterranean casual dining for 2010. 

Situated on Rockingham’s waterfront cafe strip, the (now) 18-month-old restaurant has quickly become known for its traditional Spanish fare, flamenco nights and Sunday sessions, which showcase local artists.

Having travelled to Spain and worked in a number of venues across Australia and the UK, the Rockingham local was inspired to return to her roots and start her own hospitality business.

Ms Phillipson told Gusto she observed a growing trend for tapas bars on the east coast of Australia, and saw a void in the market for such an offering in Rockingham. 

“Tapas bars have been having a fair bit of success on the east coast, particularly Sydney and Melbourne and Perth has always been a bit behind them; but if it’s working well there, eventually it happens here,” Ms Phillipson says.

One of her main goals was to give the venue a social and relaxed atmosphere. 

“Another reason we thought a tapas bar would work well down here is because it’s a very social way of celebrating and dining,” she says.

“So we recognised that Rockingham really needed that, because there are only really taverns and pubs on offer.”

While the number of tapas bars in Perth is growing, Ms Phillipson says Rustico Tapas & Bar offers something different compared to the likes of Andaluz, Helvetica and Duende.

“Those places I liken to ‘sexy tapas’, they have a higher price point and a whole lot more construction,” she says.

“Whereas our tapas are good value for money and we use a few signature ingredients that together make an awesome dish … it’s more of a simplistic approach I guess.”

Despite being located on the Rockingham foreshore, Ms Phillipson said the restaurant still receives regular trade in the winter months. 

“If we have a few wet days and then it turns into a sunny day you think you are going to be busy, but you end up having a bit of a quiet lunch purely because everyone is down at the beach enjoying the weather,” she says. 

“For winter we might drop 10 per cent, but our biggest Saturday we’ve ever had was two weeks ago and we’re in September.”

As the manager of 32 staff, Ms Phillipson says she has found it quite difficult to recruit professional staff in Rockingham.

“It’s always a challenge to find good senior level management staff in Rockingham, particularly supervisors and front-of-house managers,” she says.

“But for casual bar and wait staff it has been easy; they have come to us and I think that’s because of the quality of service, the quality of food and there are a lot of shifts going because we are busy.”

During the past six months Ms Phillipson has embarked on an advertising campaign, which includes a new website, a Facebook page and a print advertising campaign in the local paper.

She told Gusto the restaurant has benefited greatly from the use of search engine optimisation and has also attracted more business from people commenting on its Facebook page. 

“On our page we upload any marketing materials for events, we talk about our awards and show our new menus and at the moment, we have as many ‘check-ins’ as ‘likes’, which shows that those people are actually coming here,” Ms Phillipson says.

However, when it comes to daily deals websites, Ms Phillipson says she has some reservations about their effectiveness.

“We’ve tried to stay away from discounting and special offers because, firstly we haven’t needed to, and secondly I just don’t know if the customers using these websites are getting the best experience,” she says. 

“I have heard that a lot of customers are giving bad feeback … because they’re rolling into places that are using these sites and sometimes the offer is over, or the staff don’t know about it.” 

Ms Phillipson plans to expand the restaurant by 30 seats and hopes to introduce a Spanish-style weekend breakfast in the next couple of months.

She says council has already approved the alfresco expansion and the liquor licensing application process is under way. 



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