After high school I started Photography & Design and I was working locally with a few different photographers. On set at one of the shoots I met a stylist and started working with her and I fell in love with styling so that’s what I did for around three years. I worked with a number of stylists in the Brisbane area, and one in particular who became a mentor. I travelled a fair bit, exploring and working in Denmark, London and the Middle East getting work experience in fashion, mainly in high-end fashion. It was fun and I really loved doing it, and then while I was away I discovered that my mum had purchased a restaurant which was a bit of a shock! Even though she has a hospitality background, she was working in fashion as well at the time as an Editor of a magazine. I had no idea this was on the cards, and we had never discussed running a business together. She had owned a few event companies in the past but she’d never done anything like this. So I came back from overseas and she said she really needed someone to help her because she was still working full time so I decided to work with her part-time whilst still doing styling on the side. Slowly, slowly the restaurant starting eating away at my time and I found myself full on in the restaurant business. Surprisingly I really enjoy it! I always swore I would never go into hospitality – both of my parents have been in hospitality for the majority of their lives, and even though I love people and I had never experienced working in customer service. In fashion or any creative field you usually work alone and I was happy doing that, but since I have been working in the restaurant I have enjoyed the control and the structure and I love managing the business and the staff. I’ve learnt so much about people and about how a business runs.
The restaurant was originally in a different location, but earlier this year we moved to Southbank, and getting the whole project off the ground was an enormous task. It was really tough and there were a lot of sleepless nights and no days off for around two months. And it takes at least a year to get a business off the ground so we’re still working really hard. Mum is here on a day-to-day basis and I co-ordinate with her to make sure one of us is always here. I take care of the administration and all the social media, processing orders and managing the reception area. Mums looks after the staff which is her forte. Her partner Andrew is the Head Chef and he runs the kitchen, which he did in the previous location as well so he knows the process. We’ve got a Floor Manager, bar staff and all the wait staff as well, so it takes quite a large team to make the restaurant work. We’re open seven days for lunch and dinner, and dinners are pretty crazy. We’re actually really surprised by how quickly our new location has taken off – we only opened the doors here in March. To be honest the first night was probably the worst night of my life! We didn’t have any of our systems set up and no internet connection so we ran the restaurant on a docket system. The plan was to have a soft opening and not tell anyone except for a sneaky post on Instagram. We opened the doors at 5pm and at 6pm we had a full house. It was terrifying. The kitchen was in mayhem with dockets flying everywhere, and we didn’t even have a proper price list. It was a steep learning curve and it was much better in the long run to have the restaurant full and to learn from our mistakes. From then on it’s been pretty crazy, and consistently busy. We don’t really have a niche clientele – we cater to such a broad range of guests. The theatre is close by so we have theatre-goers coming in for dinner before a show for an early sitting from 5pm, we get a lot of tourists who come to Southbank or walk over from the city through the parklands, we get families on a night out, we get couples out on a date and we get the locals who live in the nearby apartments. So being in the new location has been 100% the best decision.
My mum and I have always been really close. My parents split up when I was really young and my dad moved overseas, so even though I am also really close to my dad I spent my growing up years with my mum. Being an only child as well it meant it was always just the two of us. I only moved out of home earlier this year when we started working together which I thought was really important , so that we both had some independence. To be honest I love working with my mum – she has taught me everything I know and I am still learning from her every day. It works both ways as well. I didn’t know if it would work, or how long it would work for, but it has worked out so well. We are really, really lucky to be able to work together. Of course we have our screaming matches, slamming doors and throwing things, but our relationship has always been heated and passionate and then five minutes later we’re joking and laughing together. I admire and respect her, look at what she’s done! This is my future - for the time being.
I started off working in hospitality when I was about 18, just working in Brisbane in nightclubs, bars and restaurants – opening up a few of the hip local nightclubs back in the day. When it comes to the hospitality industry you either get it or you don’t, and you either love it or you don’t – and if you get it you progress really quickly because there are so few people who think of it as a career and who enjoy the hours. I loved it. After a few years I went travelling around the world and ended up in London working at the Hard Rock Cafe. That’s where I met Leila’s father, my ex husband, who was the General Manager there. I had done a fair bit of PR and publicity for some venues in Brisbane, so I worked waitressing a few days a week, because the tips were amazing, and then did a few days a week in the office working on the PR side. In the late 1980s the Hard Rock Cafe was the place to be, and we had the best time. It was such a great experience having one-on-ones with Elton John and Phil Collins and Linda and Paul McCartney – they launched their vegetarian burger line at the Hard Rock Cafe. Endless stories!
When I was pregnant with Leila (she is now 23) I kept working and still loved what I was doing, and having my husband as the boss made life a little easier because we were working together. From the age of three weeks old, Leila would come to the Hard Rock Cafe with me and she just loved the music and got used to the atmosphere. My husband, who’s Iranian, had never been to Australia, so when Leila was 18 months old we decided to move here to start a new life that was more suitable to having a small child. It took a fair bit of adjustment, it was tough leaving that world but the crazy rock and roll London lifestyle just wasn’t practical. But we only stayed for 18 months though because my husband got offered a job by his uncle who was opening up a Hyatt Hotel in Azerbaijan which is south of Russia. So he took on the role of Food and Beverage Manager and I was commissioned to train the front of house staff for the Hyatt as well. Azerbaijan was a third world country back then and the Hyatt was the first five star hotel to open there. Leila was three, and we had so many challenges, but the hotel had 100% occupancy from the word go. Every other hotel was two to three stars and rat and cockroach infested, so we had a captive market. There was a coup when we first arrived there, with midnight curfews and people getting shot in the street. We stayed in the hotel for a while but with full occupancy we had to move out and we lived in a guarded apartment building but there was only hot water two hours a day and the toilets didn’t flush properly. Eventually we got an apartment with pipes that worked. We had to ship food in – Leila’s diet was rice, potatoes and cucumbers. We were the only expats with a child - whilst there was a huge BHP community their company policy didn’t allow them to bring children with them. But having lived in London during the Gulf War we didn’t even think about any of the political issues.
After around 18 months things took a turn when the manager of the Hyatt hotel’s casino was working for the Turkish mafia and he, his wife and his eight month old baby were executed in their apartment building, so we decided to get out of there. The Hyatt group sent my husband and I to manage a golf resort in the South of Spain, and it was such a wonderful lifestyle we ended up staying there for three years which was basically a three year holiday except for working part time for a local photographer. Leila started school there at the age of four. My husband wanted to progress his career so when Leila was seven we moved on again to Muscat in Oman and that was amazing. It was a Middle Eastern country but it was wealthy and relatively relaxed. I worked with the American Embassy, but it took six months for me to get security clearance as I wasn’t an American citizen. I ran the Members Club and Leila went to the local American International school. It was a great life but we were still wary with bombings in nearby Yemen, and when I was working at the Embassy and they issued gas masks in case of bombings, I decided it was time to leave there as well. So after another three year stint we were offered a posting in Adelaide, and whilst it was my last choice from the possible Australian Hyatt hotels, we decided to take it.
Australia offered a stable environment, and that’s when our marriage fell apart. We had lived in such an unrealistic, glamorous world for so long and when we got back to reality I found that I loved it but my husband didn’t, so we went our separate ways. Now of course I’d love some of that excitement again, but I really just wanted an ordinary life. Even though I didn’t want to take Leila away from her dad, he is a great dad, and I knew he’d be moving on, so Leila and I moved to Melbourne when she was nearly nine before I finally decided to move back home to Brisbane in 2003. It took a marriage break up, moving back to Australia and about five years of ordinary life before I really found myself again.
After hating suburban life for a while and finding it hard to fit back in, I gradually connected with friends and found my way back into entertainment and events, setting up my own events management company with a friend and working on major projects like the Fashion Festival, the Virgin Balls and smaller events as well. From there my association with Style Magazine developed from events, to marketing, to fashion and styling and to a full time role that ended up with me being the Editor for over six years. So my whole life I have had amazing experiences in the work force, through contacts and knowing the right people, and hard work.
The Spaghetti House started happening in the middle of 2014 when I met my partner Andrew. I had been single for a long time, just Leila and I – with her in her late teens she was the mother in our relationship because I was out most nights for my job. You know, ‘Mum are you going to be home for dinner, you have to eat. Mum, you’re not going out wearing that are you?”. A real role reversal. So Andrew and I fell in love at first sight and he owned the original The Spaghetti House along with another business. He was looking to sell the restaurant and I was looking for something else to enhance what I was doing and whilst Leila was working in fashion and styling I really wanted to build something for our future together. So I ended up buying the business, moving the restaurant to Southbank and started building our future. We did the turn around in two weeks. Leila had been travelling overseas but she surprised me - arriving home a week before the opening and saying that she wanted to run the restaurant with me. She’s the boss really! I had never really imagined that we would work together because we’re so different, like chalk and cheese. If she says black I say white, but it has worked because her strengths are my weaknesses and vice versa. She’s great at managing the staff while I just don’t have the patience any more. She has compassion. I’m the schmoozer and the networker. I kept up working at the magazine for the first three months, getting up at 6am to work there and then going straight to the restaurant, and trying to fit all the events in between. After three months Leila ended up in Emergency with exhaustion and Andrew was at the end of his tether so I had to make a choice. So in the middle of this year I made the decision to leave Style magazine and take on our business full time. We are open seven days and the restaurant is busy every night.
We still can’t really believe it. I had put together a small business plan, and I have a friend’s husband who is a commercial lawyer advising me, and another friend is our accountant. Working with my daughter is amazing. Knowing that I have someone here who I can 150% trust with everything if I do have a day off. Our personalities do clash a lot and I am so much harder on her than I am with anyone else, but we try and separate our issues from work. She knows me, and she knows that I deal with things instantly and move on. So the only real challenge is our differing views and I sometimes have to put my foot down, but I also need to learn to listen to her and to stop being a control freak. I have to let go a little bit. Leila grew up in hotels ordering room service, so I never imagined she would be on the other side serving people, but she has surprised me and delighted me.
The best thing to do if you want to have your own business whilst raising a family, is to involve them. Even if you have a five year old and you’re running a restaurant they can come in with you and polish the cutlery, or if you’re in an office they can work on the computer. If you involve them in a small way when they are young, they will learn to go with the flow.
The Spaghetti House is a vibrant, cosy, family run Italian trattoria located at South Bank in sunny Brisbane, serving rustic fare intended to be enjoyed over the perfect spritz or vino with perfecto company.
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