As three established eating houses closed their doors, a plucky 23-year-old plunged everything he owned into opening a new restaurant. The 14-hour days aren’t exactly hard work: digging holes in the road might be, he reckons. If this month’s lunch guest is our future, Susie finds we’re in good shape.
What to make of a young man who bought his own home at age 19? Renovated it over the next few years and, by 22, realised a big profit. Then, barely 23, sold it and risked the lot by plunging it into a start-up business six months ago, after “every bank in town” told him to get lost! Courageous, or crazy? Crazy like a fox, I decide, after lunching with him. “I had no idea about home renovation; everyone knows I can’t use tools. Luckily I had friends who helped me. I tried to borrow against my house to start this,” he gestures around spanking new squeaky clean Yuu Sushi Train on Horton, opposite KFC. “I took my business plan to the banks. E-v-e-r-y b-a-n-k! They just laughed at it.” They threw him out, he recalls with a grin, remarkably upbeat at being kicked to the kerb. “But you have to keep going. I couldn’t sit back and let them tell me ‘No’.” It’s this indomitable spirit that’s the key to him, I learn. “They had no faith in me. I had no choice but to sell my house; now I’m renting.” Earlier, he’d “sacrificed” his motorbike to help buy the house. He “made a fair bit of money” from the sale, the investor maxim You make your money when you buy, not when you sell instinctive to him. Born and bred here to mother Julie and dad John – “Purno” of Flynn’s Beach kiosk – the couple’s older son grew up helping in the family takeaway/cafe, surfing and playing sport. “I was not good at school”, St Joseph’s and Port High, he confesses. Yet it emerges he’s a fast learner, graduate of the University of Life, Gold Coast campus, his remarks reveal. “I finished Year 12, completed Cert III and IV in Fitness at TAFE and moved to the Gold Coast as a personal trainer. ”He threw himself “in the deep end. I didn’t know anything; you don’t learn anything [practical] at TAFE. I was just this … kid! But I learned more there than in the whole course – it was owning your own business. You lease your spot in the gym, sign a contract for $400 a week, after that you’re on your own: generate your own leads, marketing, clients. At TAFE they teach you about the muscular system: they don’t teach you how to make money. You learn more quickly from doing it.” He also worked the bar in uber-trendy Cavill Avenue club Ruby Tramp – “getting home at 6am, the pay was terrible … it was just to meet people.” After 12 months “I ran out of money,” he admits. “I actually had negative money. It didn’t work, so I came home.” Yet it turned out something of a gap year, a time to get thoughts, hopes and priorities in order and absorb some of those practical lessons he’d missed out on. “You learn more by getting things wrong,” he believes. (Chin up, Julia!)
Not counting the kiosk, his first job had been as a dishie at Domino’s. So: “I started again at Finnian’s [where he’d also worked earlier]. I got the assistant manager’s role, the pub was left in my charge at night, I was pretty stoked with that.” Progressively, he moved on to TGs and later to the new Fig, always learning more about management. At the same time, a dream took shape. The Gold Coast gym had been next door to a sushi train. “I’d showed Dad; he thought it was great.
He’s always encouraged me.
“The three months before I opened here and the three after were pretty crazy. But that’s the best way to learn.” It was a rigorous start: setting budgets; finding premises; designing fit-out, menus; sourcing quality produce; luring Japanese sushi chefs from Sydney. “The restaurant’s 100% mine but I’m not going to say I did it all on my own; everyone’s helped a bit.” His parents are supportive, his girlfriend helps him, and younger brother Baden works beside him at the Train. “It’s good to have them; you’ve got to have your family and friends onside when you do something like this.”
Earlier today at the Mullet executive chef/co-owner David Henry served us a smashing lunch of salmon on potato-sopressa croquette, with gazpacho, confit-garlic aioli and baby spinach and a snapper fillet with prawn-pork velouté, pickled red cabbage and crisped polenta. Co-owner Lou Perri said “Bryce’s got what it takes to be a successful restaurateur: uncompromising in both food and service standards, enthusiastic, great personality, a good, determined young bloke”. Quite a compliment for a newbie to the trade, from Port’s most accomplished operator!
The Train runs for both lunch and dinner six days; guests can sit at individual tables if they like. “People love that we make everything fresh. We’re not only a traditional train: we have authentic sushi and sashimi but also cater to Western tastes.
Address: 145 Horton Street, Port Macquarie, New South Wales 2444
Web Site: www.yuusushi.com.au
This story was published in issue 77 of Port Macquarie Focus