Adam Haralampou, restaurateur
I have very small moments where I take a step back, stand on the other side of the road and look at the place pumping – and I'm like, wow!
Adam Haralampou has come a long way since his days of up-selling fries at McDonald’s at The Pines. The 35-year-old is now one of the city’s most prominent restaurateurs, with three venues under his belt, more than 100 staff and no sign of slowing down. Adam first established pizzeria and bar Justin Lane in 2011, which quickly turned into one of the Gold Coast’s most popular eateries. In late 2016, Adam lifted the lid on his second restaurant, Harry’s Steak Bistro & Bar, which features his take on Parisian steak frites. Finally, in March this year, Adam took over the former Feather and Docks cafe in Palm Beach and transformed it into a bustling daytime hub called Mr Bengel. Whilst it’s been a massive few years, there’s certainly more to come from Adam and his team. He’s a visionary with genuine passion and a deep understanding of the industry – his mind is constantly ticking over ideas on how to improve and make things bigger and better, but we managed to pin him down for a chat about how he went from selling Macca’s fries to wooing diners with unlimited frites (if you’ve been to Harry’s, you’ll get what we mean …)
Where did your love of food originally stem from?
My family and my Greek upbringing, especially my Yaya and Papou, my grandparents on the Greek side of the family. Going there and having massive feasts was what got me really interested in food early on.
As a kid, what did you dream of becoming when you ‘grew up’?
All I knew was that I wanted to work for myself. I wanted to be my own boss … and I think that stemmed from the fact that even from a kid, I didn’t like being told what to do! It was just one of those things that I don’t think I ever thought too deep about, I was just like – I don’t want anyone to tell me what to do.
What was your very first job?
McDonalds at The Pines Shopping Centre. I was flipping burgers at the start, then I got put out the front pretty quickly because the owner thought I was more valuable talking to people. I wore my silly little hat and up-sold fries. I was pretty good at it!
To whom or what do you owe the growth of your entrepreneurial spirit?
I owe a lot to my father. Although he’s not a businessman as such, he just had an extremely strong work ethic. I’ve never met anyone that has such a strong work ethic as him. Whether he knew he was doing it or not, he also taught me to think outside the square. I’ve also had a lot of mentors along the way.
What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned?
Don’t let ego or emotion get in the road of decisions. I’ve also learned the hard way on a few occasions that you really have to step out of a situation and look at it from a bird’s eye perspective with absolutely no attachment whatsoever. Also – don’t live out of your means, and don’t be afraid to say you can’t afford something.
You’ve got two really busy nightspots under your ownership – how have you found the shift in focus back to day time trade with Mr Bengel?
It is challenging. Essentially now I’ve got Harry’s that shuts at midnight, Justin’s that shuts a 1:00 am and then there’s people down at Mr Bengel getting ready from 5:00 am – so there’s now not many hours in the day left when something’s not running. A lot of the same team members that work nights at Harry’s and Justin Lane work down there as well, and although that is a new business and a new time of day, having that support around me of team members I have worked closely with for the past six years has made the transition to day time trade much easier.
Your venues are in Burleigh and Palm Beach – what is it about the southern end of the Gold Coast that has your attention?
I’m not opposed to going to the northern end of the coast, I just think I understand this end of the coast. I understand the customer base – for me it’s home. It’s a bit more of that local clientele as opposed to the tourism trade in other suburbs. I am biased, but I still believe Burleigh is the best suburb so why wouldn’t I want hang out here all the time?
What would be the most challenging part of what you do on a daily basis?
Managing people. I do enjoy managing people, I like it, but it’s also the most time consuming thing I do, and it’s something that I think the most about. You can build the ultimate restaurant, come up with the best menu, you can choose the best site, and do everything right – but at the end of the day your team can make it or break it for you.
On the contrary, what’s the most rewarding part?
For me, I am driven by a sense of achievement rather than money, and seeing something come to fruition. I like the design side of a restaurant, I design everything myself – and to watch something come out of your head and come to life, and then see people frequent that place and also enjoy it … that’s what it’s about. For me, I have very small moments where I take a step back, stand on the other side of the road and look at the place pumping – and I’m like, ‘wow’! That’s what drives me.
Where would we find you on a day off?
I actually really enjoy watching a good movie – that’s my way of escaping. My ultimate day off would be going for a swim in the ocean, and then watching a really awesome movie in Gold Class … by myself.
What’s your idea of complete happiness?
I think about this stuff a lot. Happiness, for me, is being content in all facets of life, both personally and professionally and with health. It’s about having that equilibrium and balance among all things. Family has obviously come more important to me since I’ve had my little girl. If you would have asked me this question five years ago, I probably would have answered with “being extremely successful and happy”. But I think when you see how fragile health is in people, and as you get older, you realise that we’re not all invincible and things can happen. Nowadays, happiness for me is all about my family and friends being really healthy, being able to take holidays and being surrounded by good food and good people.
Tell us, what’s your take on the Gold Coast dining scene?
It’s evolved. Some are calling it a bubble, but I think what has happened over the past years needed to happen. I think it’s amazing, it’s moving forward and I think the benchmark has been raised significantly with fit outs, expectations of food and offerings, and I believe that it’s only going to get stronger. I would actually challenge other major cities across Australia that in ten years from now, the Gold Coast will be on their level. I honestly believe that. We have amazing weather here, and we have control over our culture – and one day our culture will be as rich as any other city in Australia.