Mermaid Beach’s newest addition, Lupo, is a family affair in the purest form. Created by the talented team behind Broadbeach’s hugely popular Espana and then French-inspired Franc’s Deli & Wine, dad Brad, mum Thea and sons Nick and Harry have got it all going on.
We sat down with Harry, one of the Gold Coast’s most talented young chefs; though, who in all of his genuine humbleness, would never allude to that fact. Harry is a complete chiller; charismatic and oozing with unpretentious charm. It’s quickly apparent that Harry isn’t in the hospitality industry for stardom and fame, simply to pursue a calling in the kitchen and provide customers with a welcoming, laid back experience, free of complicated choices, uncomfortable seating or bs.
With all thanks given to his upbringing—mum and dad are spoken of often and Harry nods that he feels lucky to have followed in his dad’s footsteps. Without a doubt, Lupo is your new home away from home. Decked out with a guzzle worthy bar, killer playlists and, of course, a menu packed with wholesome, locally sourced dishes. You’d be loco not to visit Lupo. Have a listen to Harry’s story here.
Tell us a little about your journey...
After school I travelled to Europe to play football. I wasn’t good enough so I came back to Australia, stereotypically got a trendy girlfriend and moved to Melbourne. Then, when I was studying art, I had no money, started flipping burgers and working in a call centre. I decided I didn’t want to go to uni anymore and that I liked hospitality, even though my parents were super against me doing it because they’ve been in hospitality forever. Brad [Harry’s dad] has been a chef since he was 15 and mum’s been working full time since she was 15, too. I came back to the Gold Coast and learnt to cook at Espana, I was very bad. But after three years at Espana, during which time I quit TAFE and started doing pop up restaurants with James Barnes, I was really motivated to visit Sydney and work for free. I did work experience at some really great restaurants like Sixpenny, Cho Cho San and Ester. It was a really great learning experience. I worked for free and learnt a lot. Then I moved back to Melbourne at 19 and worked in some really good restaurants for about three years. I did the old school hours of hospitality, starting at 8am and finishing at 3am, and then travelled Europe for six months, came back to Franc’s and sold it six months later before opening Lupo.
Who or what influenced & inspired your career?
Home. Mum is Greek so the kitchen has always been the main part of the house and food has always been a big part of our home. Eating out. There’s been two stand out meals amongst heaps. One was at a restaurant in Spain called Etxebarri and another was at a chef’s house in Portugal, James Henry. You know those meals you eat that are super simple cooking, but so incredible that you start laughing a little bit because it’s so, so good?
Working for a few different chefs has also been really influential. Obviously my old man mostly, then a couple in Melbourne; a guy called Jacob Swain, who was my head chef at Marquis of Lorne, Nick Stanton who is at Rambler now and Daniel Dobra. They became good friends but they left a mark, for sure.
What motivated you to take the leap & open Lupo in Mermaid Beach?
A lot of my friend’s are in Mermaid Beach, a lot of the restaurants we go to are in Mermaid Beach, and it just feels like a neighbourhood I don’t necessarily want to leave. It feels good, and you just feel very welcomed. We’ll finish service and go to Cambus Wallace or Après. You’ll bump into some customers, you know the staff and everyone knows each other. It just feels nice.
How does Lupo differ from Espana & Franc’s Deli & Wine?
The beauty of Espana and Franc’s was being a hole in the wall. Now we can offer the complete experience. The reception to Lupo has been really good. Everyone who comes in has a really good time. People who go to a venue straight away are there to see what’s on offer, so that’s really cool. We’re trying to create the ideal neighbourhood restaurant. A place you can go and feel like you’re home. There’s no bullshit. You’re going to get what you ask for; we’re very honest and straightforward like that.
Restaurants for ages have had so much bullshit. You feel uncomfortable, it doesn’t feel natural. All of the staff here, we’re genuinely hospitable. If you go to any of our houses, you’ll get the same sort of treatment. Not because we’re trying to impress you, just because that’s the way we are. If you can create genuine experiences, service, environment and product then that can only be a good thing.
For people who are yet to visit Lupo, what can they expect?
Lupo is the result of travelling; it’s the result of drinking heaps at bars, this is a very honest expression of what we like, collaboratively and collectively, not just me though, this isn’t about me at all. The main reason we thought to do Lupo, besides the fact that we would like to own a place like this, is that from a customer’s point of view, we’d get to our night off and be stuck for where to have dinner. Of course, the same thing would happen in Melbourne or Paris, but we wanted to go somewhere and be a bit noisy, drink well and just eat food that is good produce. In the sense that, I don’t want to go somewhere, order a roast chook and know it’s a caged one. I want to eat good roast vegetables and know they’re fresh. And just relax. We tried to create somewhere to suit that situation. So, the reason you would come here is because that’s what you want too.
How do you find the dynamics of working closely with family?
Good. We’re all very similar, we all get on really well. It’s probably easier than working with strangers; better the devil you know, sort of thing. Brad and I are in the kitchen, he taught me everything, so I’m basically a replica of him. And mum and I, and George and mum, we all get on fine. We’re exactly the same as we are at work as we are away from work. We’re just being ourselves and that’s that.
What’s the greatest challenge of running your own business?
Having more money come in then goes out—from a business point of view, that is very difficult. Every little cent counts. When it comes to the actual running of the shop, people are the greatest challenge. Whether customers, staff or yourself; it’s a pain in the arse working with myself, because I’m a nuisance. There are so many variables. What stresses me out is that you have to keep customers happy and you don’t know what they want. They might want the lights a bit brighter, the music down or the music up, or they might want more chilli. And then you’ve got staff; are they working hard enough, are they happy? What if someone gets unhappy and they want to go, and they’re really good? Dealing with people is so hard because they’re unpredictable, and you don’t know what they want, really. People and money, but that’s life I think.
And then there’s the iceberg effect. An iceberg sits in the water, 80% is under water, 20% is on top. People only see the 20% but all of the underwater 80% is deliberate and thought out, even though they’ll never see it or think about it. Like organising the hooks to hang up artwork, fixing leaks and all of the little things that go into creating the bigger picture.
And the most fun?
The most rewarding thing is that it’s real. And it’s simple. At the end of the day, regardless of how complicated everything is, people are coming in and giving money to get a bowl of food and a glass of booze to nourish themselves and then go. My job is so simple, in that respect. I go to a farm, I get food from the ground, I put it in the oven, and then I put it on a plate. And then someone gives me money for that. It’s like, oh okay, that’s my role in the world.
What does cooking mean to you?
Cooking is what I’ll do until I die. I enjoy that it’s the first job that is a genuine expression of myself. I’ve had other jobs that I go to and have to be another person. But here, I walk in and I’m genuinely being myself, that’s a good sign.
What do you think we do well here on the Coast, & what could we perhaps improve on?
People make the mistake of comparing the Gold Coast to Melbourne and Sydney, but they’re cities. The things I like are that there’s less snobbiness here. We take ourselves a little less seriously, but the ratio of restaurants to population is out of whack. Even though Sydney and Melbourne have a lot more people, and a lot more restaurants, here we’ve got too many restaurants for how many people. Food is so trendy that everyone thinks they can open a business and sell food. Broadbeach, which used to be restaurants and retail, it’s all just food and booze now. Good places can be quiet, bad places can be busy. You just can’t pick it because there’s just so many.
Who is a Gold Coast business owner you admire?
Aaron and Dave from Glenelg. They’ve consistently had an awesome product. Their persistence and consistency is awesome.
What’s your advice for anyone considering taking the plunge into small business?
Don’t do it for money. Do it because it makes you happy.
What are your favourite local places for coffee, eats & drinks?
Après and Cambus. They are very genuine bars with good people working there. They feel very comfortable, like a home away from home.
Yet to make your way to Lupo in Mermaid Beach? Read more about our fave new neighbourhood gem here.
Image credit: Hayley Williamson for The Urban List