Michael de Marte has been busy in his new Nedlands home. Russell Quinn reports.
MOVING house usually requires a lot of organisation, physical and mental; there are relationships to be established at the local school, post office and butcher, and of course new neighbours to meet.
But Michael de Marte’s first order of business after relocating to Nedlands was a bit different – he opened a new Italian-styled eatery.
“I moved to Nedlands from South Perth and I saw a niche in the market for something like this,” he says.
The man responsible for ventures such as Bocca Restaurant and Rosso Espresso, and currently South Perth’s Atomic Café, told Gusto his latest offering, La Lola (a modern take on the traditional pizzeria-cum-trattoria) on Hampden Road was a serendipitous occurrence.
Mr de Marte says he bought the previously tenanted Pavarotti business, which had been successfully operating for about 15 years, immediately after visiting the restaurant when he first arrived.
“I moved into the area, came in one night and sat down and I realised it was rundown but it just needed a refurb,” he says.
“It had a good atmosphere and the ambience felt good and that’s not easy to achieve.
“Within a week we’d bought the business.
“Massimo, the owner was looking to sell and it just happened, it was meant to be.”
Mr de Marte says he was lucky to reunite with head chef Tony Garita (previously with Bar One), who he first worked with at Bocca in 2002.
“I think the timing was right and we had a previous friendship (from Bocca),” Mr de Marte says.
“We crossed paths by chance at the right time, had a chat when I was putting this together and Tony was looking for something to sink his teeth into, and here we are.”
The pair suggest the early success of La Lola, thanks largely to an investment of more than $500,000 to buy and refurbish Pavarotti (including sourcing German leather usually reserved for Bentley’s automobile division, exotic lighting fixtures and manufacturing custom-made chairs) and hiring experienced staff, has created some unforeseen problems for the pair, particularly with the local council.
“Unfortunately, with the success, now we’re getting the negatives coming out,” Mr de Marte says.
“We can’t trade for lunch as our numbers are more, apparently, than we’re allowed and we’ve had complaints from residents and businesses because it’s so busy people can’t find a park.
“So instead of going to the next level and opening for lunch we’re having to pull back and have to do a new application for planning due to issues with the parking.”
Mr Garita says customers line up outside, often for hours (as La Lola doesn’t take bookings and every customer is treated equally, which has perturbed some notable Perth VIPs), until they’re moved to a snug lounge area for drinks at the rear of the premises before heading to one of the venue’s tightly packed 50 seats.
“Before we were here you could park up and down the street no worries,” Mr Garita says.
“Now that we’re here it’s a different story.”
Mr de Marte says the business operators are happy to only be trading Monday to Saturday for dinner, because “at this stage it’s doing extremely well.”
He says La Lola and Atomic combined are turning over more than $5 million each year and a $300,000 bar and alfresco refurbishment is on the cards for Atomic thanks to a recently granted liquor licence.
While La Lola remains under the control of Mr de Marte, in the coming months he and Mr Garita will form a company to oversee the development of another offering, this time on St Quentins Avenue in the new Claremont Quarter.
“The idea is (that) by early next year, with the new Claremont business starting, we should have a minimum of $7 million to $8 million working turnover across the three businesses,” Mr de Marte says.