Challenges and aspirations of the independent restaurant

It was a Jerry Maguire type of beginning. We were inspired.

By Rosalin Virnik

Owner of Curly Whiskers, Melbourne

Sick of eateries that make bold statements about their ingredients, then you peek inside the kitchen to see Heinz tomato sauce and Tip Top bread. Equally frustrating was the rise of establishments serving “insta-worthy” dishes that tasted marginally better than cardboard. 


So we set off on a mission to create a place where people could experience truly outstanding food without pretence and inflated prices. We made a conscious decision to not have a business strategy. Instead, every aspect of our place would be underpinned by a philosophy: all food must be exceptional. If we could remain true to this philosophy then success will follow.


Now two years on, how did we go? Well, it’s been pretty tough. Ongoing financial outlays, long hours and personal sacrifices for little recognition or financial reward. There were many times when we felt beaten and considered giving up. For the people that were willing to try us out, it was fairly unanimous: the food is sensational. However, we are still not getting enough people coming through the door and are barely covering our costs.


If the food is that good, then why aren’t we booked out for every service? The answer can be found in any introductory Marketing class and the often cited example of the perfect mousetrap. Without adequate Marketing and PR, you will only be known to a fraction of your target market.


But how can a small independently owned restaurant compete with the larger players that have a financial muscle as well as large established networks of influencers and supporters? The answer is we can’t. To date, we have been relying almost exclusively on word of mouth to increase our patronage. However, this alone has resulted in a slow and limited growth rate. 


What we are counting on for that boost we so desperately need is some form of recognition from a food expert or publication whose raison d’être is to seek out and shine a light on hidden gems like our little French diner. They will recognise and value our commitment to high-end ingredients, traditional preparation techniques and our genuine passion for great food. These key influencers are the umpires that can establish a more level playing field.


Our ultimate goal is to have the financial means to continue to improve all aspects of the customer experience at Curly, from more innovative menu options to a simple and efficient online booking experience. So if we get our lucky break and the increase in demand that we hope will follow, then we can potentially transition our focus from trying to keep our heads above water to investing in bolder and more substantial changes.


Fingers crossed!

Curly Whiskers is a French bistro in Brighton, Melbourne. 

Curly Whiskers owners Oliver Virnik (left) and Rosalin Virnik (centre), and chef SIlas Orre (right)