This week I met with Chris Lucas, the man who gave us the double chin (Chin Chin) and Go Go Bar, whom has just welcomed a new member to his family, Baby Pizza, located in Richmond.
Q: Where does the name Baby come from?
When I first met the two Italian pizza chefs that I interviewed, they were referring to each other in a colloquial way, as ‘Baby’ and I was struggling for a name at the time and I didn’t want to be too traditional and typically Italian. ‘Baby’ was fun and irreverent, not too serious, a bit like ‘Chin Chin’.
Q: Why Italian?
Probably my two favourite cuisines are Thai and Italian and being Greek, I know quite a lot about Mediterranean food. I’ve spent a lot of time in Italy so it was a combination of understanding Mediterranean food and culture and also I got to meet a couple of young Italian pizza chefs who wanted to come to Australia, so it was a combination of factors.
Q: Opening an Italian restaurant in Melbourne would be quite competitive I imagine, what’s your secret weapon?
Well, if I told you what my secret weapon was it wouldn’t be a secret anymore. But really there’s no secret weapon, in Melbourne it doesn’t matter if it’s Italian or Thai, I think that it’s probably the most competitive restaurant scene in Australia, just as competitive as any of the big cities in the world like London or New York. It’s highly concentrated, there are a lot of restaurants in just about every area but I don’t think about it that way, I don’t think about the competition. So it’s not so much about having a secret weapon, my approach is if I want to do something that I really like and have a passion for, I just do it. I try to create a restaurant with the image of what I would really like as a diner and I create the restaurant around that, its not scientific and its certainly not a secret, you just have to back your own ambitions. Also, if you’ve already got a really strong brand like Chin Chin, it makes it a little bit easier.
Q: How long have you been in the hospitality industry? And has owning a series of restaurants always been your dream?
I’ve been in and out of the hospitality industry all of my life, my father was a chef and had pubs and family hotels so I grew up it hotels, mucking around cooking food and serving. When I was a little boy I remember sitting in my father’s car driving into the city and I was always bedazzled by the big lights going over the West Gate Bridge and I always said to my father that I was going to open up my own restaurant one day. I guess as a kid when your father takes you to work, you always want to be like your dad, so it has always been an ambition.
Q: Do you notice a difference between the crowds of people who dine at Chin Chin and Baby?
A little, in the sense that the CBD has its own vibrancy and nightlife. Even though Richmond isn’t that far away from the city, it still has a different culture and it’s a little bit more suburban. There’s a bit of a cross over, but generally speaking it’s all about people who appreciate good food in a relaxed environment and that’s the type of people who we attract here. I also want my restaurants to be of an international standard, I want them to be recognized as an international restaurant that you could find anywhere in the world. Whether it’s in Richmond or the CBD or wherever, I want people to feel that they are getting a really world-class experience. It’s not really about the locality, it’s more about the type of experience.
Q: Chin Chin has been such a wonderful success and Baby seems to be following suit, did you have any doubts?
You always have doubts. It’s a very competitive market and there are no guarantees in this business and that’s the scary thing about it. But what drives you is the potential for failure, you do have confidence in what you do but there’s never a guarantee for success and you certainly don’t go into it with a home run mentality. What always drives me is a sense of failure and that keeps you on the edge, it’s a bit exhausting but it definitely keeps you on the edge. It’s a bit like a hit record, if you have a massive hit, following up with the next one is always far tougher because expectations are high and people are anticipating things.
Q: Since opening in October what has been the response so far?
It’s been really good, pretty overwhelming really. We didn’t know what to expect with Chin Chin because we opened right in the middle of Winter and on opening night it was about 8 degrees and bucketing down rain. So maybe because we opened Baby in a warmer time and because of the social media and expectations, this place just went crazy. The first week we had something like 4,000 people come through, so the response has been amazing. We are doing better numbers than what Chin Chin did when it first opened, so it’s really amazing.
Q: Baby offers breakfast, which is a bit different to your very ‘nightlife centric’ CBD businesses, is that perhaps because of the location or the cuisine?
Because of the location, there’s definitely a demand for breakfast here. My preference is always to open for breakfast because it keeps the place open and I don’t like restaurants that are closed. We’ve done a few things to entice people to come in for breakfast, like selling our coffee for $2.20, which is like 1985 prices. Our philosophy is about always giving value and we’re really accessible, if your restaurant is expensive you can only service a small part of the community and that’s not what I’m all about. I would rather be accessible and be able to feed lots of people.
Q: Are there any other restaurant projects in the pipeline?
Always. A great restaurateur always thinks about what his next project is going to be. But having said that I don’t just open places for the sake of it, it’s about when it feels right. I’ve got lots of ideas in my head and being Greek, maybe I’ll open up a Greek restaurant, but I’ve got lots of ideas. We’ve got some ideas for the next 12 to 24 months, but no firm plans. We’re driven by what people want, so if people want more we’ll give them more, it’s not about us it’s about what our customers want.
Q: Favourite meal off the menu? And beverage?
The Strawberry Bellini is my favourite beverage, we do ours using our little secret recipe. The fried pizza with burrata is my favourite pizza, and my favourite pasta is the Orecchiette, with peas, broad beans, dill and lemon. It’s a really light summery dish and none of our pastas have creams or butters, I’m dead against butter.
Baby is located at 631-633 Church Street, Richmond.
Open: Monday-Sunday 7am-11:30pm
Images by Jasmin Blom