People of EQ

Mark and Val  – Rio Barra

What is your role?
Owners of Rio Barra.

What were you doing before this?
“I was at the airport. I was a customer service manager. Completely different!” (Val)
“I was a business manager in the corporate world.” (Mark)

Are you originally from Sydney, Australia?
Yes, both.

What is your favourite thing to do when not at work?
“Spend time with the kids.”

They have a 17 year old daughter who is already helping out in the business and wants to be a nutritionist, and they have a 10 year old. 

What is the happiest moment of your life?
“When we got married.”

They first met when they both worked at Grace Bros over 25 years ago and have started several businesses together. They attribute their successful partnership to mutual trust and respect, and finding the right work/life balance.

“Literally, we’ve gone for years spending every day with each other.”

If it was your last day on earth, what would your last meal be?
“It has to be a chicken wrap [from Rio Barra] with extra mayo, extra chilli!” (Val)

“I’d probably start with the sweet potato salad and then make like a foot long scotch fillet roll with everything on it.” (Mark)

A bit more…
Val’s Portuguese dad worked with the Oporto franchise at one time, and he learned about the food industry and chilli sauce – information he later imparted to his daughter.
Just over 10 years ago, Val and Mark opened Rio Barra in Sans Souci serving their distinctive wraps with sauces Val had created. It was an immediate success and they were shortly afterwards invited to have a stall at the EQ markets.

“In 2009 we started at the markets here, and we were a little tiny stall, we just had sauces and brownies and that was it,” says Val.
“In around 2011 we were approached to start cooking. So we were just doing burgers, wraps, three salads, that was it. And then what happened was the Sydney Swans’  Adam Goodes (Goodsey) came to us and wanted a chicken wrap. And he said ‘can I have more chicken?’ and I said ‘no problem.’ Next week we had a sea of red!”

Goodsey had gone back singing the praises of his wrap and the following week everyone in the Swans team wanted one.

From then on, things kept spiraling upwards.

Goodsey became a regular customer. One day, a friend made a casual suggestion: “Adam, why don’t you have a photo with Val and we can call it the Goodsey wrap?” He did. The Swans wrote about it on their website and fans queued for miles wanting a Goodsey Wrap. That photo now hangs like a trophy on their shop wall.

The popularity of the wraps led to the Swans team asking her to cater lunch for them. Word got around and pretty soon Val and Mark were feeding the Waratahs, Rugby Sevens, Manly football team…

“One nutritionist would talk to the next and then all of a sudden, we’re doing the Rabbitohs, we’re doing St George, we’re doing the Bulldogs, doing Cricket NSW, GWS, Cronulla Sharkies.”

So why is their food so popular with sports nutritionists? 

“Because our food is a complete package. For example, our Recovery Wrap has 210g of chicken in it; it has sweet potato coated in turmeric; quinoa and mixed lettuce. So for the players it’s a perfect scenario after match for them to fuel up within the 30 minutes coming off the field. And that’s really important.”

The business had grown exponentially and they still only had the pop-up at the markets. The shop in Sans Souci had become an industrial kitchen for large scale orders. Eventually a shop site became available within EQ and it only increased their popularity.

When the 150 squad American NFL teams toured they called on Val and Mark to feed them.

Amazingly, Rio Barra  doesn’t do any promotion. So how do people know about them?

“By word of mouth, would you believe? We don’t have a website, we don’t advertise…it’s just having the right connections – and good food!”

Their expanded menu now includes 11 different salads with protein on top. It’s mostly Portuguese based food but they also try and cater for all dietary needs. They don’t do dessert, but they do make protein balls and muesli bars.

“We also do fresh food, so we also do the Portuguese style chicken in Cryovac bags. So people take them home, open the bags and they cook them themselves.”

Val has some clients for whom she prepares special orders, including a lady in Palm Beach whose fridge gets stocked each Christmas with pre-seasoned, ready-to-cook ribs, fillet, chicken. 

And the future?

“We love being in EQ. We can see a lot of potential in this place, we really can.” (Val)
“It’s got a really nice outlook.” (Mark)

 

Arnaud – Black Star Pastry

What is your role?
“I’m the Head Pastry Chef, so basically I’m running the production and oversee all the product for all Black Star Pastry.”

What were you doing before this?
“Before that I was working with George Calombaris. I was Executive Pastry Chef for Made Establishment, so I was overseeing all the pastry production across all the brands: Hellenic Republic, Gazi, Press Club, Jimmy Grants and more recently, Yo-Chi.”

Arnaud has only recently started at Black Star Pastry.

Are you originally from Sydney, Australia?
No, originally from France. Arrived in Australia four years ago, but was in Melbourne for most of that time. Has only just moved to Sydney for Black Star Pastry.

What is your favourite thing to do when not at work?
“Restaurants. I love eating, I love exploring.”

What is the happiest moment of your life?
“My wedding. I got married in August this year.”
Arnaud’s family and friends came over from France.

If it was your last day on earth, what would your last meal be?
“Oooh, that’s a hard one…I think it would be the best Wagu I could find. I would be happy with that. Plus a glass of wine.”

He’d have it medium rare with no vegies.

A bit more…
In Paris, Arnaud had been a head pastry chef for Michelin 3-Star restaurants. Does he miss it?
“Not really. Working 90 hours a week? No, I don’t miss it at all! But I do miss France…I miss the friends, I miss the life there. But I’m really happy here, anyway.”

Andrea Reiss, owner of Chez Dre in Melbourne, brought Arnaud to Australia. They had previously worked together in France and she wanted him to help her launch her new venture, Bibelot.

After spending some time in Melbourne, Arnaud moved to Sydney to join Black Star Pastry. He was already familiar with their name and brand – “and of course the strawberry watermelon cake!”

Black Star Pastry founder, Christopher The′ was now Executive Pastry Chef for the whole group and focusing on research and development.

“I’m here to help him with managing the whole operation,” says Arnaud. Without giving too much away, Arnaud hints at some future plans:

“We have a couple of things on the line…Let’s say, we’re working on the marketing so the branding is going to change in the next few months.”

What does he like about his job?

“So, what I like in pastry – and even food in general – is to see people happy when they eat. That’s something we can experience a bit more in a pastry shop, because you can walk past.”

It’s a joy, but also a challenge.

“When I create a dessert, I’m always trying to keep in mind that I want to make everyone happy. Of course, you’re not gonna make everyone happy, but as much as I can.”

Arnaud’s love for pastry cooking began when he was a boy.

“I was a kid, I was twelve years old, and I was baking at home. Just some tarts…just started on the weekend, do a couple of tarts for my mum, for friends. And then a little bit later, was some danish, croissants, just experiencing some stuff at home. And then one day, I said to my mum ‘I know what I want to do! I wanna be a pastry chef! I wanna stop going to school.’”

His mother’s response?

“No. You’re gonna go to school until your next diploma” (which was another two years) “and then after that, if you pass, you do whatever you want.”

Arnaud completed school, passed, waved the diploma in front of his mother and said “Now I can do what I want!”

He spent six years studying in Paris, gaining thorough knowledge and skills in the fundamentals before adding his own creativity.

“I learned a lot of things there. So basically, when you have all the base, and you understand the food, the product, and the reaction between that, you can create whatever you want. So from there you’re creating your own recipes.”

What are his future goals?

“For now I’m definitely more than happy with what I’m doing. It’s a big opportunity. And the business is gonna grow and I’m gonna be part of it. I love challenges and I’ve got a really amazing team behind.”

Nicholas – Brent Street

What is your role?
Has graduated from Brent Street but is part of the talent agency and still takes occasional classes and courses.

“I’d love to teach here eventually, that’s an ultimate goal of mine.”

What were you doing before this?
“I was a little country kid, going to school, wanting to be a dancer…”

If it was your last day on earth, what would your last meal be?
“Honestly, I think I’d go a medium rare steak. I love my steak.”

Are you originally from Sydney, Australia?
No, originally from Orange in regional NSW.

What is your favourite thing to do when not at work?
“I like to hang out with friends, obviously we’re all very close here at BSA because we’re spending so much time together with schooling, dancing, everything together, so yeah, hang out with my friends, swimming.”
“Whenever I can I try and jump down to Orange and see my family.”

What is the happiest moment of your life?
“Probably receiving this contract I’ve just received [West Side Story] my parents are ecstatic. It’s a huge move, I’m really sort of, kind of… turning my dream into a reality!

A bit more…
Nicholas grew up in Orange, a country town roughly 4 hrs west of Sydney. It’s known for wineries and good food, but not so much for performing arts.

“In Orange there’s not a whole lot of avenues or opportunities as a dancer, so I was training, went to my local dance school, but I’ve always wanted to move. I’ve always known that Brent Street was the epitome of dance training in Australia.”

Nicholas was able to complete his schooling through Brent Street Academy which offers distance learning. A typical day consisted of 3hrs schooling and then 12hrs of performing arts. It’s a very competitive industry and everyone is encouraged to be a triple threat.

“Brent Street is training commercial professional dancers.  We’re trained in particular to be very versatile, triple threat, so singing, dancing, acting; all styles of dance, tap, jazz, modern, hip hop. Because in this day and age the industry wants someone that can do everything.”

A big part of Brent Street training is the audition process itself.

“That’s a big thing in the industry, knowing how to audition; knowing how to approach the panel; knowing how to approach material they give you. Brent Street has trained me really well in that sort of stuff.”

And here’s the proof.
“I’ve actually recently been really fortunate enough to be cast in West Side Story.”

Nicholas is playing A-Rab, one of the Jets in the Opera Australia production. A good start to a career?

“Oh, huge!”

The director/choreographer, Joey McNeely, worked with Jerome Robbins – the original choreographer.

“He’s from America and he’s a huge influence and I’m really looking forward to working with him. A lot of people say your first job is when you learn the most and I’m really looking forward to getting experience, meeting people, working hard. Obviously training every day is going to help with my voice, my singing, my dancing, my acting.”

What’s the industry like in Australia?
“I really believe the Australian industry has a lot to offer. Australian’s are always known as hard workers, as a lot of international people say.”
“It’s very close. You know everyone in the industry, you know who’s booking what… You know everything! So it’s all about networking and making friends, and who you know – and work hard and be a good person.”

Biggest Challenges?
“It’s hard work, it takes a toll on you body. Mentally it can be very draining.”

Nicholas has certainly tested his body and mind to the limit, having spent a lot of time in physio after spinal fusion surgery. Was he ever tempted to give up?

“No. I don’t think so, because, if you love it enough you’ll tough it out. If you want it enough you’ll work through it.”

Long term goal?

“Teaching’s always been a big thing for me. I want to inspire others. I want to pass on my knowledge.”

“I really appreciate young men in the performance industry, especially being from the country there’s not a whole lot male dancers, I was the minority there, so I really want to encourage young people to get out and try the performing arts industry.”

His desire to teach was sparked by his experience at Brent Street.

“Being surrounded by such talented singers, dancers, actors, teachers, choreographers, really creates an exciting and inspiring environment to train in. For me in particular it’s really pushed me to work hard.”

Words of wisdom…
“Hard work always pays off. Dream big, go for the ultimate goal, don’t settle for less. Work hard, that’s the main thing. Never doubt yourself.”

Ivana – The Bavarian

What is your role?
Assistant Manager and The Bavarian.

What were you doing before this?
Restaurant Manager in fine dining.

Are you originally from Sydney, Australia?
No. Originally from Slovakia. Arrived here two years ago.

What is the happiest moment of your life?
“Probably moving to Australia. I’ve never regretted that decision…

Even if I won’t be able to stay in this country in the future, it definitely gave me so much. I already see some things changed in me. I’ve changed so much.”

What is your favourite thing to do when not at work?
“When I’m not at work I love to do some sports, I love running and gym. Now when the weather is just awesome, I love the beach… at the moment my favourite is Maroubra. I like Clovelly actually, just to sit on the coast and watch the ocean. It’s so calm…

I love going out with my friends as well, but sometimes I need my own time – Ivana’s time.”

If it was your last day on earth, what would your last meal be?
“Pizza! I love pizza! I like just cheese pizza…a lot of cheese, prosciutto and rocket on top, tomatoes…”
“I like pineapple, but on the side not on a pizza – it doesn’t belong there!”

A bit more…
The Bavarian in the Entertainment Quarter has a special place in Ivana’s heart.

“This venue is my baby. This was my first job since I arrived in Australia.”

She left Slovakia in search of more work opportunities and a better lifestyle.“I felt like there was nothing much for me happening back home.”

Other Slovakians were moving to Europe and American, so she thought she might try somewhere else. She had friends who had been to Australia. “They said: ‘It’s fun, it’s summer there all year long!’”
She had acquired basic English through her work in the restaurant business and talking with tourists, but it didn’t help her much when she arrived.

“I came here, I couldn’t understand this Aussie accent at all. Like ‘what is this guy talking about, I have no idea!’” Apart from adjusting her accent, Ivana started making lifestyle changes, inspired by the culture and climate. “I actually started getting up earlier because I wanted to do so many things. I started to travel a lot, which I love. I don’t know why I didn’t do it before.”

At least there’s one thing that will help her assimilate: “Girls, they like cocktails and wine – I’m like ‘give me a pint of the beer!'”

It’s just as well because she is often asked to recommend a beer by patrons at The Bavarian. They have quite a variety including flavoured, dark, red IPA, pilsener and more. They also have their own. “We do have our crafty beers, they are actually brewed by our company, so we do have a Munich lager which is basically the most popular…it’s like a basic Aussie lager.”
What about the food?

“We have a pretty traditional German cuisine here, so definitely knuckles, bellies, schnitzels and sausages. It’s all home made, which is great. So we do have one big production kitchen.” And, of course… “…our pretzels, which are great!”

Her pitch:
“I think whoever wants to eat something unhealthy can find something in our menu! (But also healthy options are available.)”

And her favourite menu item?
“I like chicken parmigiana because it tastes like pizza”

Hayden – Black Bear BBQ

What is your role?
I am the director. I was original, I made it up one day with my wife.

What were you doing before this?
He was a builder and has never been in the food business, though he cooked a lot at home.

Are you originally from Sydney, Australia?
“Born and bred.”

What is your favourite thing to do when not at work?
He used to love riding push bikes, mountain and road.
“I just really miss doing that because this has taken all my time. I used to do 4 or 500 km a week on the bike. now i haven’t ridden a bike in about 6 months.”

What is the happiest moment of your life?

“I think just the enjoyment I get watching people’s faces when they taste real bbq for the first time. It changes the way you think about bbq. Low and slow is totally different to the Bunnings bbq for instance.”(For the record, he mentioned meeting his wife and having kids as a given.)

If it was your last day on earth, what would your last meal be?

“It would have to be… probably my wife’s Caesar salad. It’s pretty good.”

A bit more…

Hayden and his wife were given a Weber BBQ for their engagement. “I would have used it once or twice a year for the first 20 years.” But after seeing watching cooking shows on TV, he was inspired to try more home cooking on the barbie. “Once you start introducing cuts into your BBQ like beef ribs, pork ribs, proper briskets …once you start getting the real cuts and the proper stuff, and you get real results, it’s incredible.”

The inklings of business potential began on social media. “We got into it so much – right into the wormhole of Instagramming BBQing. Got really good at that.” So good, he and his wife had amassed quite a following. The more Hayden drove around as a tradie, the more the idea of opening a BBQ restaurant nagged him and finally, he thought “if I don’t have a crack at this now, we’ll never do it.” A local, very grungy fish’n’chip shop in Hayden’s home suburb of Blacktown was ear-marked as the location. “I just walked in and started dreaming.”

Dreaming indeed. He had no knowledge and had done no research, simply “learning on the fly.” And he admits it was harder than he thought it would be. With some cash they got from selling a house, he bought a top of the line Radar Hill smoker. The name came when he and his wife were watching a film one night and listed in the credits was Black Bear Productions. “My wife and I just looked at each other and said – that’s perfect!”

And then…“We sort of teased people for about 6 months before we opened. We put an event on saying ‘Black Bear BBQ is opening’, and we went out and bought 6 briskets and we thought ‘OMG! All this food! We’ve never cooked this much before.’ Filled the smoker up with it, cooked all this food and just literally crossed my fingers. Then all of a sudden people started turning up […] just at the beginning of service this thunder storm came in, sideways rain. And everyone just put up an umbrella and stood in the rain for an hour and a half, and it was like, ‘well, we’re on to something’.”

And they were. It was a hit from the get go. In a very short space of time, they opened their second restaurant in the Entertainment Quarter. It’s a much larger, outdoor space that can cater for functions and big groups. The EQ location is BYO and licensed and they even have their own beer label.
“We smoke the malt. It’s a heavy beer and it’s really, really easy to drink. It’s a lager, you don’t have to chew it like most craft beers.”

The most popular menu item?
“It would have to be beef brisket – everyone comes for that.” Brisket is a very marbled, tough cut and can take up to 14 hours of smoking to get right. Apart from brisket, they’ve got “… pork ribs, pork belly, and we’ve got a link which is a cheese and jalapeno sausage; chicken marylands, buffalo wings, baked potato, sweet potato, we’ve got vegetarian options…”

Something for everyone?
“Most menu items here are allergy free, nut free, gluten free, so it’s a very easy sell to people that are very high demand.” And it’s not just the food that is popular. “We get asked everyday ‘where can I buy this sauce?’ It will be for sale, but we’re just concentrating on getting it right first.”
One of the signature features of Black Bear BBQ is the vintage, country America vibe. The restaurant has a mid-western feel, with lots of very cool paraphernalia that Hayden has collected over time.

“When I see something I like I’ve got to have it! And it’s not an expensive hobby because most of the stuff’s really old and rusty and sitting in a paddock or whatever.”
Recently, Black Bear BBQ joined forces with a restaurant entrepreneur group, and the horizon looks like expanding for this energetic, untamed animal. “The beautiful thing about Black Bear is it’s big enough and bad enough to feed the masses, and that’s what I can see us doing.”

Alex – Urban Winery

What is your role?
“I’m the owner and wine maker.”

What were you doing before this?
“Always been wine making… Always, been wine making.”

Are you originally from Sydney, Australia?
No. From Wagga Wagga.

What is your favourite thing to do when not at work?
“Playing with my boys, actually. I’ve got three young children, 7, 6 and 2 and they keep me busy enough.”

What is the happiest moment of your life?
“Each of the children being born, my business being born, and marrying my wife, how’s that?”

If it was your last day on earth, what would your last meal be?
“I know what my last wines would be, they would be Domaine Romanee Conti Pinot Noir from Bergundy and a beautiful Chabis as well. The last meal?… Probably a smorgasbord of beautifully roasted meats…”

A bit more…
Alex developed a love of the land from his parents who owned a farm. They weren’t in the wine business, but they unwittingly inspired Alex: “I got into wine when mum and dad planted a small vineyard on our farm in the mid ‘90s and I was just doing an arts degree in Canberra and had no idea where that was going […] I thought wine making sounds like more fun than an arts degree.”

He left Canberra and went back to Wagga to study wine making at Charles Sturt University. After completing his degree and serving a traineeship at the Uni’s winery, he worked in America for one harvest, was a winemaker in the Hunter for 3 years, worked at a harvest in the South of France, ran a winery in Bordeaux for 2 years, worked in Spain, back to Bordeaux then started his own thing back in Sydney.“I started my label which is A. Retief Wines in 2008.”

Alex was renting space in other people’s wineries before starting Urban Winery in St Peters at the end of 2015. He moved to EQ 10 months ago because of council restrictions in inner west. “These guys are dreams compared to Inner West Council. You can’t do anything in the inner west.”
No regrets, then? “In terms of moving into the Entertainment Quarter? Dream! Absolute dream! Our business has expanded so much. We’ve been here for 10 months, now I’ve got two event managers, I’ve got a venue manager, I’ve got six casual bar employees, whereas before in St Peters it was basically me and an assistant wine maker and a few casual bars.” This is the first, and to date, only urban winery in Sydney. Wine is a competitive industry, but Alex says “If you stick to your philosophies and you believe in it, then it works well.”

His secret? “To me, that’s what you should always be doing – just showing that wine is fun, and that was the main reason behind starting Urban Winery Sydney as well, is to show that wine isn’t that snooty thing, wine is fun.”

In line with that belief, Urban Winery offers a number of experiences including a tour of the winery where you taste 6 wines from three regions and then talk about wine and wine making. They also offer group and corporate experiences.“To me the most fun experience…is a blending class. So we sit down with 6 single variety wines straight out of a barrel, I walk [attendees] through the structure of each of those varieties, and then as a group they blend their wine.” The groups do blind judging and choose the best blend which can then be bottled and have a customised label.

And you don’t need to know about wine at all. That morning, they had a group of roofers in.
“They loved it. They were a bit nervous to start but then really got into it. By the end of it they were, you know, really tasting properly and loving the experience and having a great time and at the end they ordered a case of the winning blend, for Christmas or to give to clients.”
The other must-do experience is stomping. Red wine gets put into bins with skins and seeds to get fermented. “We set up a bin with some disinfectant in water, [participants] jump into that, we hose their feet off so there’s no disinfectant. Get in the grapes. Stomp, stomp, stomp, stomp, stomp. Jump out, hose off, shoes on.”

Is that hygienic? “There’s enough acid and enough alcohol to kill off anything.” If you prefer a less feet-on experience, try the degustation style dinners. “Within the event space here we have two preferred suppliers, two chefs, so whoever is having the event, they choose the chefs. But the chef matches the menu to the wines. You could be having an intimate dinner for 20 people amongst the barrels, or it could be 180. But it’s all amongst the barrels, long tables, shared platters.”

Urban Winery’s grapes are all sourced from within NSW (Tumbarumba, Wagga and Young) as is and all the produce for their charcuterie, their beers and gin. “I think we’ve got such good wine in NSW, there’s just no reason not to.”