GQ: How’s the scotch? Justin Hemmes: Not bad at all. Guillaume Brahimi: [Remains mute – save for an enigmatic French shrug, implying either lavish praise or far darker damnation.] JH: Sorry, this mustn’t be Guillaume’s offcial whisky sponsor [laughs]. GQ: What advice would you give anyone thinking they could make a mint in the hospitality game? GB: This is not a day job and you have to be in love with it from the start. It’s not a dinner party, this is every day. JH: I’d say it’s not too late to turn back. If you’re getting into this industry, the only valid reason is that you love it, you’re certainly not doing it for fnancial satisfaction. Incredibly long hours keep you away from family and it’s generally a business of low return. If you know all that going in and still want to do it, then you’re in a good place. GQ: What of trends – do you care about the next big thing in providing to a perennially-tough-to-please public? JH: If you look at Guillaume’s business, it couldn’t be further away from trends. It’s about classics, done well. I take the same approach: excellence in product, produce and service. We don’t follow trends. We make our own way. GB: Value for money is crucial. That doesn’t mean cheap. So, if someone orders a $50 steak, I have to make sure the experience is justifed. If you try to base a business on what the next big thing is going to
be instead of what you do well, you’re always going to be on the back foot. GQ: Nice use of cricket terminology, very Aussie. GB: Well, you would be on the back foot. [Cue uncomfortable silence and a look that simply states were GQ in his employ, we’d be peeling potatoes the entire summer.]
GQ: Justin, you clearly admire Guillaume’s work – why haven’t you made him an offer? JH: I couldn’t afford him. GQ: Now everyone’s a food blogger/ restaurant critic/drinks expert – do you sift valuable feedback from the mass digital chatter? GB: It can be dangerous sitting around reading Tripadvisor all day. It’s important to know what’s being said, but nowhere
near as important as focusing on the next few seconds of service and the few seconds after that, and so on. JH: I fnd it one of the most important tools. I read every piece of feedback frst thing in the morning and believe there’s always something to be gained. You might learn that you never want that person back in your venue. If someone has a rant, but something has triggered it, I want to know what it is. What I like about internet feedback is that you can deal with issues immediately. GQ: Setbacks, you’ll have both experienced them – how do you overcome professional stumbles? GB: By focusing on the next thing rather than the past. And something I’ve found useful is to get my team to be diners in the restaurant. That way they experience those special little touches, such as a maitre’d knowing you like a dry martini, or walking someone to the toilet if they don’t know the way. Initially, you work to make your business 80 per cent good and the real challenge is then focusing on that extra 20 per cent. The 80 is never good enough. JH: In 20 years in the business, I’ve been kicked so many times it doesn’t hurt anymore. Business is a minefeld, the more you do it, the more you learn where the mines are. But that’s only because you’ve stepped on them. You are now in a position where you can focus on that 20 per cent. GQ: Is success also built on embracing risk? JH: Starting off, I took way greater risks than I do now the business is established. I had to get where we wanted to be. Establishment is the perfect example – in 1998, for someone to spend $60m doing up a glorifed pub with a couple of rooms in the CBD was unheard of. My Dad’s friends kept telling him I was going to send him broke. But he was my biggest supporter – all he said was, ‘If you think it’s going to work, it will.’ He had blind faith and unconditional love. GQ: And you wanted to prove him right? JH: It’s more that you start to believe it yourself when someone you idolise does. Then when you’re better established, you can be more circumspect. I wouldn’t do something like Ivy, on which I spent $160m in 2007, again. I don’t need to. GH: I took a lot of risks early on, but it was about time more than money. I risked being away from my family and just like that my three-year-old daughter was 15. Those risks have paid off, which is why I don’t have to be at the restaurant tonight – I can be at home making her lamb cutlets and ratatouille. JH: And he wants three Hats from his daughter tonight. GQ: Any advice you’ve been given in your respective careers that’s stuck? GB: There is a French phrase that roughly translates as, ‘The love of the work well done.’ That is, doing whatever is in front of you to the best of your ability with no shortcuts, no cheating and fnding joy in that. JH: Never give up. Tenacity’s key.
GQ: Go on then, who’d win in a fight? JH: What are the rules? GQ: Fists only.
JH: I wouldn’t even show up. Have you seen him? GB: I’m a lover not a fghter. JH: I’m still not turning up. n
“What I like about internet feedback is that you can deal with issues immediately.”
Guillaume wears black wool tuxedo, $4035, and white cotton shirt, $495, both by Ermenegildo Zegna; black silk bow tie, $175, and white cotton pocket square, $45, both by Harrolds; silver ‘Gancio’ cufflinks, $335, by Salvatore Ferragamo; bracelet, Guillaume’s own; pink gold ‘Octo’ watch, $31,000, by Bulgari. Justin wears tuxedo and shirt, both Justin’s own; black satin bow tie, $99, by Thomas Pink at David Jones; white cotton pocket square, $19.95, by Nigel Lincoln at David Jones; pink gold ‘Bulgari’ watch, $25,600, by Bulgari.