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If you have an appreciation for fine food, chances are you’ll have heard of Aria head chef Matt Moran. If you’re a MasterChef fan, you’ll know him from the most recent season of the hit TV show, in which he played host alongside George Calombaris, Garry Mehigan and Matt Preston.

But, have you considered that Moran’s also a SME owner, and an entrepreneur of the food world? After leaving school at 15 to become a chef, Moran met business partner Peter Sullivan in 1988. The pair went on to open the Paddington Inn Bistro and Moran’s together, before opening Sydney’s Aria restaurant in 1999, when Moran was just 30. Aria expanded to Brisbane in 2009, and Moran remains as passionate about the food business as he was when he entered it over 20 years ago.

In recent years, Moran’s become a familiar face in the media, which he admits has helped boost the profile of his restaurants but insists isn’t a big deal. His restaurant business is what matters, as do his wife and children.

Moran talks to Dynamic Business about the importance of branding and the part passion plays in business success.

Q. What lessons did you learn when you were first running your restaurant business?

In the early days, we really didn’t know what we were in for in terms of running a restaurant, we just wanted to do what we loved.

The first year was a very big eye-opener. After a month or so we sat back and thought ‘this is easy’ and ‘we’re making all this money’. Then we realised we hadn’t actually paid any of our suppliers yet. After a year, turnover was really good but we were still going backwards financially. We couldn’t understand it. So we had to take a closer look, start learning more about the business side and surrounding ourselves with the right people.

Q. So implementing solid systems and procedures are important in the restaurant business?

We do a liquor stock take every fortnight and a food stock take every four weeks. We have a profit and loss statement every four weeks so we know exactly how we’re going. A lot of restaurants don’t put that much energy into checking their stock. It takes a long time, but it’s worth doing.

We work out how much everything costs and how much we sell it for. People think there are big margins in running a restaurant, but there really aren’t. Somewhere like this, taking one percent off the cost of the food can make a big difference. If the food costs become too high, that directly affects the bottom line.

Q. What’s more important to the business – the Aria brand or the Matt Moran brand?

Both brands are very important to me. We’re one of the top restaurants in the country and it’s important to me where we place ourselves in the market. I get asked to do endorsements every week and 99.5 percent of them I turn down because they don’t have the right alignment with our brand. It isn’t what Aria’s about.

Branding has become increasingly important though, and we’re very careful what we do and don’t do … we’re one of the top restaurants in the country and it’s important to me where we place ourselves in the market. I get asked to do endorsements every week and 99.5 percent of them I turn down because they don’t have the right alignment with our brand. It isn’t what Aria’s about.”

Q. What do you see as the essential requirements for business success?

To succeed, you have to really love what you do, breathe it and feel it. I’m passionate about the business, so I enjoy it.

Q. Do you have any advice for aspiring restaurateurs?

Gone are the days when someone with a lot of money could just buy a restaurant and make a lot of money out of it. These days, the most successful restaurants are owner-operated. A restaurant should be owned by someone who has an idea of what they’re doing and loves doing it. There’s not a lot of margin in it, and it’s a constant struggle to make sure you get that margin.

Lorna Brett

Lorna Brett

Lorna was Dynamic Business’ Social Web Editor in 2011/12. She’s a social media obsessed journalist, who has a passion for small business. Outside the 9 to 5, you’re likely to find her trawling the web for online bargains, perfecting her amateur photography skills or enjoying one too many cappucinos. You can follow her on <a href="https://twitter.com/#!/dynamicbusiness">Twitter @DynamicBusiness</a>

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