An empty espresso cup and a trail of cigarette smoke drifting in the mid-morning breeze is the first sign that West Perth restaurant Julio’s will remain Italian in nature and flavour, despite owners Aldo and Connie Dichiera having sold the business they f
An empty espresso cup and a trail of cigarette smoke drifting in the mid-morning breeze is the first sign that West Perth restaurant Julio’s will remain Italian in nature and flavour, despite owners Aldo and Connie Dichiera having sold the business they founded 22 years ago.
Sitting in the restaurant’s courtyard, with a cigarette in hand and an order book competing for space with an espresso cup, is Egidio Squillace, the young Italian chef who took over the restaurant’s operations earlier this month.
Mr Squillace, 27, is a born and bred Italian who came to Western Australia three years ago, initially for a 12-month stint so he could learn English.
Like many blow-ins, Mr Squillace got hooked on Perth and has stayed on past the initial time frame.
It was only in February that he took a role at Julio’s, after leaving Il Principe Gran Caffe, which closed to make way for an apartment development.
Mr Squillace is still a little star-struck that he now holds the keys to the business, after going in to partnership with yacht designer Sam Sorgiovanni, who will not be involved in the restaurant’s day-to-day operations.
The pair offered to buy the 22-year-old business from Mr and Mrs Dichiera, who decided it was a good opportunity for them to take a well-earned break and spend time with their four kids.
The business appears to be in good hands as, like its previous owners, Mr Squillace is passionate about hospitality, which translates into looking after the customers.
“You have to put love and passion into this,” Mr Squillace says.
“If you do not have the passion, you should not do it.”
Mr Squillace’s career has ranged from pizzerias through to luxury resorts, where he cooked meals priced at between $400 and $500 a head.
He has been working in the hospitality industry since he was a teenager and remembers working long days for little financial reward.
But all the while he gained invaluable experience, something he tries to convey to young chefs looking for a job in his kitchen.
“You learn for you, not for me,” he says.
He finds it frustrating when the first thing chefs ask about when applying for a job is how much they are going to be paid.
Mr Squillace politely tells them to look for a job elsewhere, as he’s only interested in those whose main focus is cooking.
But saying no in a climate where skilled staff are hard to come by does not mean Julio’s kitchen will be a one-man show.
It will be bolstered in the new year by the arrival of an Italian friend of Mr Squillace, who will join the restaurant’s long-standing sous chef, Brad Bone.
Mr and Mrs Dichiera, who have likened the business as an extension of their home, also listed attracting staff as a big problem and told Gusto they managed the dilemma by accepting fewer bookings, and dinner for 70 people rather than 110 people.
“We would rather have 70 happy people than 110 unhappy people,” Mrs Dichiera says.
Mr Squillace agrees that running a restaurant is about respecting the customer – creating great food and delivering good service.
While Mr Dichiera was in the kitchen and Mrs Dichiera managed the front-of-house operations, Mr Squillace has the task of managing the business on his own.
He says he will not be based in the kitchen, instead preferring to direct his chefs on the type of food and the style of the food he wants coming out of the kitchen, while at the same time making sure the customers are having a good time.
Mr Squillace plans to bolster the existing menu with more fish and pasta dishes.
While the focus on service and food will remain, there will be some very noticeable changes in the near future.
A major renovation will take place over the holiday period, with a new bar, kitchen equipment, new furniture and paint all planned.
The carpet will also be pulled up to reveal the floorboards but there will be alterations made to the rooms to minimise the noise.
There are also plans to open the restaurant on Mondays and offer degustation dinners matched with wines once a month.
Mr Squillace is aware he is at the helm of a West Perth institution, which has been built up over 22 years and amassed an army of loyal diners, many of whom have struck a business deal or two over good food and wine.
But for Mr Squillace, the restaurant is about forging his name – one that he wants to be known for quality.He is excited about the investment and says he chose to give up the “charisma and couture” of Italy because of the immense opportunity that presents itself in Perth.