Robbie Marino & Harbour Lights Cafe
Below is an excerpt from an article by Anthony McConnon in our August 2017 edition of our magazine, the Hospitality Review
In today’s economic climate, stories of hospitality businesses successfully operating for 20 years are few and far between. But that’s exactly the milestone that Robbie Marino from the Harbour Lights Café on Hobart’s Waterfront will achieve next month.
Robbie took ownership of Harbour Lights in 1997 and in that me has used his extensive experience in hospitality to continue to evolve it into the award winning business it is today. Housed in a heritage building that dates back to the late 1800s, Harbour Lights today exudes charm and honesty and strives to deliver on its promise of an experience to be savoured.
I recently caught up with Robbie and had a chat about his hospitality journey and what lies ahead. When speaking with Robbie the first thing you discover is that he is not the type of person who likes a fuss but his passion for his family, our industry and life in general is undeniable. Robbie has the skill of making every patron feel like they are the most important person in his venue. It’s not hard to work out why he is so successful.
So tell me about Robbie Marino today...
I was born in Hobart, Tasmania in 1969 to parents Giovanni and Antonietta and was the youngest of five children. I come from a close family and have two brothers, Pompeo and Nick who lives in Sydney and two sisters, Maria and Francesca who lives in Melbourne. I married my wife Mary in 2006 on a beach on Hamilton Island and together we have three amazing children – Zara - 9, Jonni - 7 and Sienna - 4 – all of whom are mini foodies who are very capable in the kitchen! My children are all very aware of where their food comes from and we predominantly shop local and organic at home so they understand the seasonality of food which I think is important.
your parents came to Tasmania from Italy in the 1950’s, and they were both amazing in the kitchen. Did you ever consider a career that wasn’t centered around food?
Growing up in a large Italian family funnily enough, it was all about the food. I was always helping my parents make Italian sausages, passata or something related to food and watching my Uncle make his own wine and curing prosciutto for his family and friends. We used to grow our own vegetables in the garden and what we didn’t grow, someone else would so there would always be friends or relatives bringing over lemons, or silverbeet or tomatoes or oregano on a weekly basis.
When I was young, my Mum worked at Italian restaurants around Hobart and my Dad was President of the Italian Club, Hobart Juventus soccer club and also founded his own soccer club – Hobart City Azzurri. He also became President of the Molise Association on in Hobart and would host large functions and organise fundraising events. The kitchen really was the heart of our home and most nights were spent around the dinner table telling stories, eating and drinking.
A career centered around food was an obvious step really – I don’t think I had much choice! My whole family was in hospitality in one way or another and despite an opportunity to pursue a career in real estate around the same me as I bought Harbour Lights, I opted to stick to what I knew best. I figured real estate would always be there, but the chance to purchase a business on the Hobart Waterfront would not be.
How important is local produce to the success of your business and do you and it easy to access?
We’re so lucky in Tasmania to have to the best produce in the country right on our doorstep. The quality of our produce is great when designing menus and specials. I think it’s also important as we’re located on the waterfront and in a busy tourist area so we’re not only responsible to our local trade but also we have an opportunity to showcase this great produce to visitors to the State.
I think it’s great also that we have so many clever small food suppliers that have created some great Tasmanian food products and I have plans to showcase these in the Café and help spread the vision of these businesses.
Is there anything about the industry you would like to change or see improved?
My Dad would always talk about this and he would say that the Government should offer a grant and a process to follow for business entrepreneurs interested in opening a new venue. By offering incentives for new business entrepreneurs for purchasing an existing business for sale rather than opening a new one in the area, particularly where areas might already be flooded with many eateries or venues, there may be less businesses closing and more likelihood of success stories.
I also believe that the industry can improve on the skills levels of staff. It is something I think can be explored at school level; If the skills are taught early on it will improve service as a whole. Also customer service basics such as focus, eye contact and communication could be improved. If someone is in the retail industry, the transition to hospitality is harder these days because there is less customer interaction in retail than there used to be- these staff then move into hospitality and often struggle with the constant interaction and need to be available and aware of customer’s needs the whole time. More on-the-job training and decision making during service would benefit everyone. Even just an understanding that each service can be different in hospitality and you often need to be able to think on your feet; more skilled staff would only benefit the industry as a whole.
Follow the link to see the full interview with Robbie and more!