Nestled in the heart of Craighall Park, you’ll find Dolci Café – a neighbourhood eatery serving up top-notch Italian cuisine. However, it’s a little bit more than a restaurant – the space is something of a meeting place for the people of Craighall Park, and on sunny days you’ll see the outside area packed with diners and passers-by stopping for a chat.
Run by Chef Jackie Righi-Boyd and her husband Clayton Boyd, Dolci Café first opened in 2015 as a small pastry café, and today it has tripled in size and focuses mostly on Italian cuisine. A few non-Italian dishes have been added to the menu over the years, catering for the locals that regularly visit the restaurant. The space is beautifully light, bright and colourful, perfectly complementing the warm and welcoming vibe.
However, Craighall Park won’t be the only suburb that benefits from having Dolci Café’s delicious cuisine close at hand – Jackie and Clayton have just opened Bistro Dolce Vita in the Regent Complex in Morningside. Dolci Café will act as a central kitchen for the new restaurant which isn’t a franchise as such, rather a new space that’s run in conjunction with the main restaurant. We chatted with Clayton and Jackie about their experience in running a restaurant, as well as their advice, and highlights and challenges of the hospitality industry.
What are some of the highlights of working in hospitality, and in your own restaurant?
Clayton: Let’s not mince words… Restaurants are hard work, and long hours. But, there is a lot of instant gratification in the work we do. If you do a good job, people enjoy it and tell you about it. As a community restaurant, we know many of our customers and they know us – and when you see different customers go and talk to each other in your space, it’s a good feeling to be able to facilitate that for the community.
What are some of the challenges that you face as restaurateurs?
Jackie: You have daily challenges – there is never a day where it all runs smoothly. Either a burst or blocked pipe, a broken fridge or a flooded shop… something is bound to happen. How to deal with it? Put your big girl panties on and YouTube how to temporarily fix a burst pipe until the professionals show up!
Clayton: Because we are a frontline business, the challenges are the same as the benefits – we will hear about the good and the bad almost instantly from most customers. However, not all our customers will tell us about their experience but will post it on social media, which makes being present on these platforms and managing both positive and negative media a must. Another HUGE issue is the people factor within your staff. We are a business that requires a lot of people. You cannot automate a chef or a cook. As such, quality control is always an issue because sometimes people come to work tired or are dealing with personal issues and they don’t perform up to their normal standard. Catching this as quickly as possible and doing something about it is a constant challenge.
What do you think the key elements to a successful restaurant are?
Jackie: Good food, fair pricing and to be in your business as much as humanly possible so that you know what is going in in every aspect of it.
Clayton: Being hands on. There are so many moving parts to a restaurant and so many ways to lose money, from theft, to wastage and breakages. If you aren’t there most of the time, you will lose track of those things and your costs will surpass your earnings. I am lucky that I have such a supremely capable and wonderful wife who deals with the kitchen side of things, allowing me to deal with the customer liaison and business management side. Jackie takes meticulous stock control on a daily basis, she rotates stock so it is never forgotten in the back of a fridge and then has to be thrown away. She also looks at the sales figures every day to see what is moving and what is slow (sometimes weather dependent). By doing that she can make a new menu item on our specials list with the same ingredients that maybe moves faster, allowing us to use our stock and not throw it away.
That being said you cannot lose sight of basic business principles: your product has to be impeccable and consistent.
Can you tell us about Bistro Dolce Vita and the motivation behind opening a second establishment?
Clayton: Bistro Dolce Vita is a new partnership between Dolci Café and Sergio Caon. Sergio brought the project to us and it was an exciting prospect that Jackie and I thought we shouldn’t let pass us by.
Jackie: At first it was about getting big enough to pay all the bills and make a bit of profit. Now there have been a few exciting opportunities and we’re just grateful to be in the position to exploit them. The restaurant in Morningside, Bistro Dolce Vita is in full swing open seven days a week for breakfast and lunch, and from Monday to Thursday we also serve dinners.
How do you deal with a difficult customer?
Jackie: Not going to lie, it’s not my forte, so I leave it to my front of house!
Clayton: I diffuse the situation. A customer is often difficult because of something going on in their own lives completely unrelated to your restaurant. Being that you are there serving them they feel like they can dump on you or your staff, and many are just looking for a fight because of other things they are dealing with. I do everything in my power to take the fight out of them, and not rise to their aggression.
If we are wrong and have made a mistake I apologise profusely and fix it as best I can. If the customer is wrong, or simply doesn’t like the way we do things, I just explain that this is how we do it, and while they may not like it, we have done it this way for many years. It does require management to often eat humble pie, but if you deal with it sufficiently at the time of incident, you don’t usually get any social media blowback.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Jackie: Old cook books – I love going through them, taking old favourites that we have all forgotten about and bringing them back with a modern twist
Clayton: Conversations with people. I’ll see a challenge or something I’m not happy with and then talk to a number of people whose opinions I trust, my wife, my parents and certain customers. Then I’ll see if I can find the best solution through the quagmire. Jackie is our creative one in the shop, I am more the left brained finance guy at the restaurant. My creativity is left for acting and writing.
Best thing you’ve ever eaten?
Jackie: Best thing ever to eat is Italian gelato from a gelateria in Via Cavour Ravenna called “Gelateria Cavour” the BEST flavour is zuppa englese. One of my other best dishes is piadini Romagnola served with squacquerone and prosciutto (Squacquerone is a locally made cheese that you don’t get other than in that area of Italy around Ravenna, not even in the next town over – it is very localised).