If confidence plays a role in business success, Pink Zulu’s Doulene Walker has the first ingredient down pat. Russell Quinn reports.
“WHAT’S in a name?” Juliet asked Romeo in the Shakespearean tragedy, implying that the labels we give one another are a meaningless convention that serve more to separate than unite.
For her part, however, Pink Zulu owner Doulene Walker is happy to be on a different page to the Bard – she reckons it’s all about the name ... and what it can evoke.
Mrs Walker says the quirky, exotic name for her recently opened Cottesloe bar came to her four years ago, and she has meticulously planned her business strategy around it.
“This is going to sound ‘airy-fairy’ but I was just sitting on the balcony one day on my swinging chair and I came up with this name Pink Zulu,” Mrs Walker told Gusto.
“So what I did was register the pty ltd straight away, did the dot-com dot-au, got my Pink Zulu number plates on my car and then I decided what it would be.
“I wanted a funky up-market cocktail lounge, so then I developed the logo and started making it happen.”
But in order to make it happen, this 37-year-old self-employed immigration agent (who had never previously worked in a food and beverage operation) drew on the experience of some of her skilled migration visa clients to help usher her through the hospitality industry’s often-unforgiving doors.
Mrs Walker says Norman Bogdanov of Portofinos fame, Steve’s Fine Wine & Food’s Murray McHenry, Miles Wood from Hog’s Breath Café Mindarie, and Mounts Bay Apartments’ Sabine Massberg were instrumental in helping her dream become a reality.
She says her mentors assisted with scouting locations, planning the fit-out, menu design and even staffing while she continued her immigration business, which she still operates.
“It’s worlds apart but it’s a good balance,” Mrs Walker says.
“Immigration is extremely rewarding, and so is this. I just love pleasing people.
“Some people have said to me ‘have you ever been in the restaurant industry before? No, I never have, but I think it’s all about service, it’s the most important thing.
“Service is everything and that absolute minute attention to detail when it comes to service is so important.”
Astute words from the Zimbabwean-born migrant who came to Australia with her mother and sister with nothing but the clothes on their backs and a single gold bracelet which her mother sold to the Perth Mint for $1,000 upon arrival.
This experience, she says, combined with her mother’s strong work ethic (holding down three jobs while raising her children single-handed) gave her the self esteem to take risks and confidence to believe she can do anything.
“I love the Nike slogan: Just do it,” Mrs Walker says.
She suggests a life lived with regret is a life not lived and, as such, didn’t think twice about mortgaging everything in order to secure funding from her bank to but Phillip’s Café on Napoleon Street for a little over $250,000 in January.
Her vision for an African-fusion eatery that she calls “the gathering place” meant extensive refurbishment of the old cafe.
Fortunately, she says, Red Brown Interiors’ Adri-Ann Brown was happy to help, sourcing some of the artefacts from Africa that decorate the walls.
“She’s a brilliant designer and so generous,” Mrs Walker says.
So generous in fact that the South African native provided her services for free, which has helped keep overheads down.
To date, the fit-out has cost $150,000 but Ms Walker says another $150,000 will be spent in the coming weeks to renovate the dated bathrooms at the rear of the venue.
In order to achieve the right fusion of African flavours (covering regions from Morocco and Ethiopia to South Africa) Mrs Walker hired chef Sunny de Ocampo to fine-tune the menu while training Pink Zulu’s five chefs in African cooking styles and flavours, including in-house French pastry chef Jerome Loyher.
It seems to be working, with one customer returning 16 times in the first fortnight of trading.
This week, Mrs Walker will start a new manager, who joins Pink Zulu after helping to open Steve’s and Monsoons, as well as managing Grapeskin Bar.
“I’ve said to her ‘I want you to feel that you own this place’ so we’ll be giving her a percentage of the business,” she says.
And despite being new to the game, Mrs Walker has big plans for the future, but not before reaching an annual turnover of $2.2 million.
“For some reason I have 2.2 [million dollars] in my head,” she says.
“And I know that other local businesses are doing that so why not me. So I want to open a few more Pink Zulus in Perth with an aim of taking it to New Zealand.”