On ANZAC Day of 1991, David Bitton left his homeland France and arrived on Sydney’s shores in search of better opportunities. Food was his passion, so it was natural that the first place he would job hunt was at the fine-dining establishment The Treasury at the prestigious Intercontinental Hotel. Despite not speaking a word of English, he was successful and used an electronic language translator to get by.
Not only did David kickstart his fine-dining career at The Treasury, but he also met the love of his life there.
Sohani was doing a hospitality training course at the restaurant when she met David.
“I think if my memory’s correct, she looked at me and said, ‘Wow!’” he jokes.
David and Sohani have been partners in business and in life since.
David and Sohani have been married for 16 years. Source: Supplied
With $5000 to their name, the Bittons opened their first café in Sydney’s inner east. While they were making a decent earning from their foods, they conceded that business is fickle and the food industry is competitive.
So how did they overcome these pains?
“Reinvention and innovation,” Sohani says. “We’re not just a cafe; we’re so much more.”
Bitton Group also has a product range that sells various jams, sauces, dressings and other condiments.
“The idea came when we used to go to Berrima on the South Coast, and there’s a little shop called The Little Jam Shop and I would buy little jars most of the time and never use it, but loved the concept of something handmade,” David says.
“I thought with Sohani’s background and my background, it would be a great idea to launch our range of gourmet food products but just for our little six table coffee shop.”
Bitton's gourmet jams and spreads. Source: Supplied
Sohani says, “My background is South African-Indian… you know our flavours are very different to the European flavours. There’s a lot of spice, there’s a lot of cardamom and cinnamon and chilli. So we decided to incorporate that into our range.
David and Sohani didn’t slow down after their second restaurant and gourmet condiments range. They took to running a consulting business under the Bitton Group umbrella to help other aspiring restauranteurs and cafe owners.
Regardless of experience, running a business still comes with its fair share of challenges.
“Staffing has been one of biggest challenges and we found within Australia, people don’t want to have a real job in hospitality. You’re either studying or travelling, unlike Europe where you have people that are 50 years old and it’s a proper job,” says Sohani.
Long-term staff in hospitality are hard to find in Australia, and overseas staff are often hired on 457 visas. Source: Supplied
To resolve this issue, the Bittons have sponsored a number of qualified overseas staff to work in their restaurants on the 457 visa. This is not cheap.
“When you sponsor 457 people, minimum wage is must, which is $60,000 at the moment. That’s a big overhead for a coffee shop at $3 a coffee. You need to sell a lot of coffee and when you got 10 or 15 [staff] on 457 between our two restaurants, suddenly your payroll is huge.”
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