When the Federal Government announced all restaurants, cafes and pubs across the country were to immediately shut their doors in March, Nikki Kolotas and her husband Anthony Ladu decided to push on with their dream of opening pizza and dessert bar, Devoured.
Nikki, a finance professional, and Anthony, an Italian cheesemaker, spent their spare time experimenting with hobby baking, researching recipes, and travelling through regional Southern Italy particularly Naples, Sardinia, and Calabria to re-create “Nonna’s cooking”.
The couple’s love of Italian food led them to set up two Uber Eats restaurants as side hustles out of a dark kitchen in Sydney’s northwest.
They created two different kitchens – one traditional Italian and the other a dessert kitchen called Devoured. With both offerings, the couple felt they could share their passion for traditional home-style Italian cuisine as well as express their creativity with unique dessert innovations such as cookie pies and build-your-own banoffee, giving the customer full creative license to choose their own adventure.
The two brands became extremely popular on the Uber Eats platform. Nikki and Anthony knew they were on to a successful venture when customers would constantly ask whether they had a dine-in restaurant.
Nikki and Anthony left their day jobs and opened a physical Devoured location in Normanhurst, offering a unique food nightspot in a suburban setting.
Devoured planned to open in March well before the pandemic hit, and Nikki and Anthony decided to press on and ‘learn on the go’.
Opening a business in the middle of a lockdown gave the owners an opportunity to experiment with seeing what worked and what didn’t, particularly as the broader hospitality industry were trying to pivot their operations to take-away and home delivery models.
Devoured’s new customers were considerably more understanding given the limited number of food outlets open during the lockdown.
The owners acutely felt that they had to be across their finances to survive. Being a brand new business, Devoured needed to have a weekly sense of what money was coming in and going out given a raft of volatile factors such as unpredictable customers, social distancing, new rental premises, supplier relationships, capital expenditure, staff costs and marketing.
They partnered with Sabah Hussain of Sabella Consulting & Solutions who developed easy-to-use customised cash break-even tools and menu pricing calculators that Devoured could adopt in their business to help them manage their cash position.
“Small business now more than ever need to be across every part of their operations and know exactly where each cent goes if they are to make it through,” said Nikki. “It was great to have Sabah, a foodservice specialist, take the time to understand our unique situation, how we operate and just be there to help.”
After four months of opening, many of the locals have embraced Devoured’s courageous move to open their doors in such turbulent times. With restrictions easing, the owners are gearing up to welcome patrons to their 60-seat dine-in restaurant.
While Nikki and Anthony still face daily challenges that come with opening a new business, both are immensely grateful for the steep learning curve the lockdown provided them with and the community spirit it instilled.