We recently caught up with Bill Granger, the man renowned for combining that sunny and energetic Australian attitude into his cooking. We touch base with Bill and discuss , family life, challenges facing the restaurant industry, tips for those wanting to start their own restaurant, cupcake wars and what he’s currently up to, here’s some extracts from our chat…
PlanMB: What’s your typical day like?
Bill Granger: My typical day… oh well I get up early and go for a quick walk or run with the dog before the kids get up. That’s usually 5.30. Then I come back and make breakfast and lunches and do all that stuff, do some emails. Walk the kids to school and then I get back home at 8.30 when I would then go into the restaurants.
PlanMB: So you would still have to cook for everyone in the family?
Bill Granger: Oh yes absolutely! I cook everything – my wife doesn’t cook but she works very hard in the business so we sort of have a trade off
PlanMB: Would you say your wife does most of the stuff for the business? Like the business side? And you do the more creative, making the recipes and things like that?
Bill Granger: Well we work together – we work side by side so Natalie my wife is a producer by trade – a film producer; so we sort of work as a classic producer and director or a film or TV show – I work in all the creative side, the division, and Natalie works the logistics in making it all happen.
PlanMB: so in your spare time do you watch any food shows or anything like that at the moment?
Bill Granger: My kids do! My kids are obsessed with food shows… we just visited Hawaii two weeks ago – and while we were there, the kids were obsessed with all the food network shows… Like they’re the ones that are obsessed so I have to watch with them so I can enjoy it with them.
PlanMB: Oh definitely! Especially when I was overseas as well. When I’m overseas I just end up watching TV at night when I’m too tired to go out
Bill Granger: Oh it’s right isn’t it? Like you see all these mad shows. It’s quite fun – room service and TV
PlanMB: Yeh… I think there was this show called cupcake wars that I was watching at one stage
Bill Granger: Girls are a fan of cupcake wars! I didn’t see it but they were loving it
PlanMB: it’s a strange show – it’s a strange concept that seems to have taken off
Bill Granger: There’s definitely no shortage of us cooks on TV
PlanMB: Yup definitely! So do your kids want to pursue a career in cooking as well? Do they want to follow your foot steps and open their own restaurant?
Bill Granger: I don’t know – I think my eldest daughter wouldn’t; my middle daughter has an Instragram account called Maggie the Chef and she loves it – she wants to be a cook or artist; and my youngest daughter is very warm and nurturing so I think she would be a good home cook
PlanMB: Oh excellent! There’s a lot of people out there – like friends of mine – that want to start their own café or restaurant – do you have any tips for them? Any challenges that you faced?
Bill Granger: Oh look I think you have to have passion! And what I learnt early on is that it’s not about you, it’s about your customers. You have to love people! I think that is the most important thing so if you don’t love dealing with people, it’s probably not the best business. It’s about dealing with customers and staff – and that’s always the biggest part of it. Making sure it will financially work is also important. To be able to get some support, so it’s not only you working all hours of the week – it’s a hard business so you want to be able to take time off and refresh. So do the numbers and make sure you love it!
PlanMB: Definitely – it’s really sad when you hear about really good restaurants close
Bill Granger: It is! Yes it makes me feel sick! It really is because everytime I read about a restaurant closing I know the love and the passion that goes in to it and I know how hard it is – it’s such a complex business. There’s so many facets of it
PlanMB: Yeh especially on our side – you fall in love with the place, you go back and all of a sudden it’s gone – it’s like a relationship – you have to rebuild the relationship
Bill Granger: You do – you have to build the relationship. I think we all have the five restaurants that we go to regularly – that we always really love, and then we can go off and flirt with new ones. You do build a relationship with it – it’s part of your life and that’s what I learnt in the early days. The restaurant wasn’t mine, it was my customers – they were having their birthdays there, they were the ones coming in every morning to have breakfast, and it was part of their lives – it wasn’t really about me.
PlanMB: Definitely – I still remember when… I was probably in early high school, when I first went to Bills and I thought: “wow all these people are paying this much for eggs!” and I was like, “I must try it!”
Bill Granger: It’s funny, it’s just such a simple café that I opened when I was 22, and I’ve just tried to make it my home – it’s a simple café where we try to have nice people to serve and good cooks and just to make a nice little corner café where people can pop into – over the years it’s grown into a bigger name than from when it was a little corner café, but you know that’s all we really are and all we really aimed to be – a nice local.
PlanMB: are you ever surprised that you’ve been open for more than 20 years now?
Bill Granger: Oh! It’s dog years in restaurant world – restaurant years are dog years!
PlanMB: Yeh it’s one of the longest!
Bill Granger: it’s amazing that we’re still around – the original Rockpool is the only one that moved from the area. People’s fashion changes – we need to strike a balance with being new with being fresh but also staying true to your DNA and not changing it too much – it’s a fine balance, you’ve got to keep evolving but not changing too much. It’s what we do with every new restaurant opening – we try to bring something fresh to the business and something fresh to the staff, which helps us grow and stay relevant.
PlanMB: Oh excellent. So who gets to test your creations when you do try something new?
Bill Granger: Um I do all the development work and making sure… I think what do I want on the menu, what do I want to eat – we have classics on the menu that we can never change… the scrambled eggs…
PlanMB: and the ricotta pancakes!
Bill Granger: … yeh create new things! We’ve got kimchi fried rice which I got from a trip to Hawaii where I tried it and loved it! So I just put that onto our breakfast menu, and we do a miso rice porridge now, that we got from our trip to Japan. So we try to bring things in from our travels – I always like to think that our food is well travelled and that our customers are usually pretty well travelled too. They love trying new things so I try to bring a lot of that into it too while keeping the classic staples.
PlanMB: Would you bring different dishes to different countries to cater to their tastes?
Bill Granger: Uh no… like in Hawaii we did a tuna poke which is a classic Hawaiian dish – like a mix between a tartare and a sashimi and we did our version of that – but that came on the menu in London and Japan and Australia now so I try to get what I like from each country and that’s why I travel. We’re about to open a restaurant in Korea in June and that’s been incredibly inspiring – the food is incredible. And what I try to do is take a bit from all those influences and bring it back so it’s like a family that is all related but each different place has it’s own little quirk… but in general they are all similar
PlanMB: I definitely find the Korea one quite interesting because you generally do not see too many Western-style cafes around there
Bill Granger: Not at all in Korea but there is an amazing coffee and amazing coffee culture there – amazing coffee houses – like enormous places with amazing coffees. So there’s an amazing coffee culture – I’m really excited, I hope it goes well
PlanMB: Yeh Korea is one of my favourite places
Bill Granger: Amazing for fashion, design – all those things that I love. It’s incredibly inspiring.
PlanMB: Do you have a personal favourite cuisine?
Bill Granger: Personal favourite changes – like I love Japanese, I love Italian food, Korean – I love all food. Being in Sydney, we’ve got Darling Street Thai. I love the thai food. I like fresh food though. Fresh food for me is the most important thing. Which is what we’re trying to do with the Jordans’ “growing your own” campaign.
PlanMB: Well I’ll leave you to it – I’m sure you’re on a pretty busy schedule
Bill Granger: Oh yeh but that’s ok – it’s lovely to chat
Photos courtesy of AC Agency