10 things one of Australia's best chefs, Cumulus Inc's Andrew McConnell, learned from business

Kristoffer_PaulsenChef Andrew McConnell

Look up dining out in Melbourne and one name will keep popping up: Andrew McConnell.

Twice named the Good Food Guide’s chef of the year, his restaurants are a history of eating in the Victorian capital since 2001, attracting a swag of awards along the way.

His career spans almost three decades — the second half running his own ventures, which in previous incarnations have ranged from three hat fine diners to casual snacking including Three, One, Two; Mrs Jones, Diningroom 211, Moon under Water, Golden Fields, Ricky & Pinky and Luxemburg Bistro.

His current dining hotspots include Supernormal in Flinders Lane and Supernormal Canteen in St Kilda, alongside The Builders Arms Hotel and nine-year-old veteran Cutler & Co., both in Fitzroy.

The place closest to his heart is Cumulus Inc. in Flinders Lane, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in June.

SuppliedCumulus Inc.

Restaurants are the very definition of a life lived in dog years, so a decade in business is a remarkable achievement for a chef who’s seen his share of both knowing when to hold them and knowing when to fold.

McConnell and business partner Jayden Ong reset the benchmark in 2008 when they opened Cumulus Inc. with its all-day dining, from house-made crumpets to start the day and house-cured charcuterie board over wine in the afternoon, not to mention sharing the slow-roasted lamb shoulder with friends.

“It is quite unbelievable reaching the 10 year milestone as a restaurant. I am so proud of Cumulus Inc. and all of our staff, past and present, that got us here,” McConnell says.

The CBD space was also one of the early pioneers of the no bookings phenomenon, and now McConnell is rewriting the rules again, introducing reservations for lunch and dinner, at Cumulus Inc. Perhaps he’s recognising that fans of his food and restaurants from the start, including Business Insider, might be getting on a bit and our patience to wait is reduced. It’s a win for those who plan ahead. You can make a booking online here.

To mark a decade at Cumulus Inc. we asked Andrew McConnell for his advice on the 10 things he’s learned from a decade of running the business. Few companies face the frontline of customers the way restaurants do, but his lessons apply to everyone.

Here’s what one of Australia’s greatest chefs had to say about succeeding.

1. Invest in your team
The people around you are the biggest asset to any business. At Cumulus Inc I have worked hard to bring together a team that is driven and creative. Nurturing their skills and progressing their careers is important in giving them opportunities to grow and develop.

2. Listen to customers
It is their space as much as ours. We are driven by our need to create an environment for ourselves, but it has to resonate with our guests too. There’s no point in creating food that just satisfies us as chefs. It has to be what people desire and we are always trying to think and consider what we do from the perspective of the customer.

SuppliedCutler & Co

3. I only cook food I’m happy to eat myself

It’s not about trends, it’s about comfort, quality and integrity. To create an experience that people want to return to, the cooking has to be genuine and from the heart.

4. The importance of wine

It’s something I learned from my business partner Jayden Ong, who is also a winemaker. It’s such a critical aspect of the culture in any restaurant. Guests should always feel comfortable having conversations about wine, regardless of their knowledge, and be able to enhance their meal with our offering.

5. You need to get along with your neighbours

This is especially important when your neighbours are as close as ours. Flinders Lane is such a creative hub and I love working with neighbouring art galleries, design and corporate firms in collaborations and special events.

6. Consistency is everything

And certainly one of the most important aspects of running a restaurant. From the kitchen output, to how we serve a coffee, to how we welcome our guests. I found that developing a positive and welcoming service culture is the only way we can deliver at a high level any time of the day.

7. Invest in good design and identity

Good quality resonates, don’t cut corners. From glassware to creative collateral to light fittings, everything should make sense together and speak to the vision that you have created. This does not necessarily mean you need to purchase the most expensive items, either. They should respect a set aesthetic and complement each other.

8. There are no fast profits

A restaurant is a long term investment. Business growth needs to be slow and steady in order to be sustainable. You can’t build an identity and a following overnight. I have found being patient and having a strong belief in your product is key.

9. Look after your suppliers

Create positive business relationships. Pay all of your suppliers on time, and not only are you helping their livelihood but you get the best service and produce in return.

10. Enjoy what you do and do/stick to what you’re good at.

It’s important to love what you do. I still just want to get into the kitchen as much as I can – far too often I find myself stuck in meetings dreaming about cooking.

suppliedSupernormal in Melbourne’s CBD.

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