09/09/2010 - 00:00

No half measures at Divido

09/09/2010 - 00:00

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A popular restaurateur reckons operating in an established location would have enhanced his success. Russell Quinn reports.

No half measures at Divido

AN award-winning restaurant in Mount Hawthorn, known for its classy décor and equally refined food and wine, is a world away from what was originally envisaged by its co-owner and head chef five years ago.

Jason Jujnovich, the man behind popular Italian-inspired eatery Divido, says the initial concept incorporated great food but in a much more relaxed atmosphere to reflect the name, which means to divide and to share.

“Our vision was a little different,” Mr Jujnovich explains.

“I intentionally went out to open something that was a bit more casual … to the point where there were pizzas and some light antipasti. It didn’t turn out that way.

“It evolved into something bigger and finer, and that’s where we are today.”

Half a decade ago on the now bustling Scarborough Beach Road strip was a Greek restaurant called The Aegean, which Mr Jujnovich says came with blue paint, garlic and chilli on the walls.

He and his business partner, Lindsay Turner (a refrigeration mechanic and friend for more than 20 years), bought the business for tens of thousands of dollars before investing a further $70,000 fitting it out.

An architect acquaintance, Mr Turner’s tradie mates and some willing family members worked around the clock to complete the two-week revamp.

Since that time, Mr Jujnovich’s culinary skills and leadership in the kitchen have helped Divido develop a strong following among Perth foodies, experiencing 20 per cent year-on-year growth since opening.

Hardly surprising considering Mr Jujnovich’s impressive cooking pedigree, starting at home with his Croatian father and grandfather in the kitchen before deciding to be a chef while in primary school.

His passion for cooking led him to leave high school after grade 11, completing an apprenticeship at Blooms, on Cottesloe’s Napoleon Street, before joining Shane Osborn (Australia’s only two Michelin star chef) at the Captain Stirling Brasserie and then Jonathan Alston, who is now executive chef and co-owner of Melbourne’s revered Scusami Ristorante.

Both chefs pushed Mr Jujnovich to gain international experience to develop his skills and his career.

He spent the next few years learning from some of the world’s best chefs, including six months at Gordon Ramsey’s L’Oranger restaurant, a stint at Steven Terry’s Coast before landing at the renowned River Café, where he says using the freshest produce and working with real food enthusiasts changed his life.

But Mr Jujnovich is adamant that, even after more than 20 years in the kitchen and five years at the helm of his first hospitality venture, he is still learning from his mistakes.

“Being here, and doing what I do, has been nothing but one big learning curve,” he says.

“You make a million mistakes that cost you thousands and thousands of dollars.

“And if I had to do it all over again I’d do so many things differently.”

Despite his success on the growing Mount Hawthorn cafe strip, Mr Jujnovich says he’d change his choice of location if given the opportunity again, preferring to pay higher rents in more established areas with existing clientele and greater pedestrian traffic, than having to “drive customers” to a destination.

“Where’s there’s a whole heap of traffic going through it’s not so hard to get them in the door,” he says.

“To this day I still don’t know the right formula for marketing.”

One successful strategy has been holding events such as wine dinners with boutique wineries and producing specifically tailored regional menus, both of which have garnered media attention and enhanced business.

And despite hospitality’s peaks and troughs, Mr Jujnovich’s not going anywhere just yet, and may even develop a new project.

“I’ll be in the food industry for the rest of my life,” he says.

“I like pizza; some people like eating nice burgers, I like eating nice pizza, and I don’t think it gets done well here.

“Maybe something a bit more funky like a pizza-slash-bar. It might not be that but something a bit more casual.”

 

 

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