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September 25, 2019

Introducing GROW Assembly: A hospo conference building a stronger food and beverage community

Freshly imported from Melbourne, hospitality heavyweights Meira Harel and Banjo Harris Plane are bringing their educational and inspirational hospitality event GROW Assembly to Adelaide for the first time.

  • Words and pictures: Johnny von Einem

Meira Harel and Banjo Harris Plane came to Adelaide from Melbourne for a change of pace.

Both are hospitality veterans, and have made a life in the industry over the last 15-20 years, most recently in Melbourne. But having adjusted to life with their son – Noah, now two years old – they felt the need to retreat from the chaos of Melbourne’s hospitality scene.

In May this year, they packed their bags and moved here, to Banjo’s hometown.


GROW Assembly Adelaide
9am ’til 4pm on Monday, 21 October
Electra House
131 King William Street, Adelaide 5000
Early bird tickets (before 30 September): $70
Full price tickets (after 30 September): $85
Tickets available at the website.

Both Meira and Banjo have spent the last eight years in Melbourne, where Meira, who is originally from Israel, had worked as a sommelier and restaurant manager in Brooks (which is now closed), Grossi Florentino, The Lake House, and The Town Mouse; and Banjo had been renowned restaurant Attica’s general manager, before founding Bar Liberty in Fitzroy and Capitano in Carlton.

In moving to Adelaide, the couple has cut ties with their former city – with Banjo selling out of both his restaurants – and they’ve started integrating into the Adelaide hospitality scene.

Both were brought on to help open Leigh Street Wine Room, consulting on the wine list and assisting running the floor for its opening month, and Meira is also consulting on the upcoming Aces Pizza & Liquor project.

Banjo is operating his Sydney-based wine delivery business, Good Pair Days, from Pulteney Street co-working space, Mâché, and he and Meira are also putting together the latest iteration of their hospitality networking, education, up-skilling and inspiration event, GROW Assembly.

This will be the first Adelaide GROW Assembly, after events held in Melbourne and Sydney, and features a range of accomplished South Australians from our food and beverage scene.

A previous GROW event. This image: Supplied


The event was founded in 2016 off the back of Banjo’s experience as an attendee at a MAD Talks event in Copenhagen and as a guest speaker at New York’s Welcome Conference.

“After going to these series of events, I came back to Melbourne and felt so inspired and so energised about going to these events,” Banjo says.

“We thought if we feel so good about this kind of thing, I think there would be other people in our position in the industry who would get similar benefit from it.”

Hospitality schools do already exist, but most are focussed on particular skills and have quickly become outdated due to the rapid pace of technology’s influence on the back- and front-of-house duties.

GROW Assembly aims to provide its guests with practical tools and inspiring perspectives, for any ambitious hospitality workers who want to improve their skills and their workplaces but feel frustrated at the lack of formal avenues for professional development in the industry.

“To be a successful small business owner in the hospitality space, you need financial nous, HR skills, you need to know your product – food or beverage – intimately, you need to be a good people manager, you need to be able to run a team,” Banjo says.

“Most people, unfortunately, who own small hospitality businesses, don’t have these skills, so they’re learning on the job or they’re learning in places they’ve worked in in the past.

“What that breeds is a cycle of mistakes, often, because if you’re just learning from someone that you’re working with, there’s no guarantee they’ve had the right education.”

“We wanted to touch on things like design and emotional skills and mental health, and step by step, every year expanding the spectrum of speakers and topics that we touch on,” Meira says.

Matt Preston speaking at a GROW event. This image: Supplied


Ever year GROW Assembly has a theme, and the inaugural Adelaide event will look at ‘finding balance.’

This has been a pertinent issue in Meira and Banjo’s lives, and in the broader cultural conversation around the hospitality industry.

“The move to Adelaide was all about that, so we just tried to think what was burning at the moment,” Meira says.

“At the time I was still trying to figure out what I’m going to do here and how do I not jump into a full-time job, because the whole purpose of moving here was to find balance and have more family time.

“And there’s so many things you can talk about, so many channels and topics that you can take this theme to – creativity and business and mental health and family, gender balance within the industry, which is a huge thing to talk about.”

Speaking on this theme at the inaugural Adelaide GROW Assembly is Emma Aiston (Daniel-Emma), Lucien Alperstein (fermentation expert), Nicci Bugeja and Maria Rosella (Lucia’s Pizza & Spaghetti Bar), Simon Bugeja and Emma Bugeja (Lucia’s Charcuterie & Fine Foods Shop), Gill Gordon-Smith (Fall From Grace), Daniels Langeberg (EcoCaddy and Mâché), Steve Pannell (S.C. Pannell Wines), Izzy Pearce (Fresh Sprouts Yoga), Ashley Ratcliffe (Ricca Terra Farm), Nick Ryan (wine writer), Barbara Santich (food historian), Sali Sasi (Leigh Street Wine Room), and Matthew Waltner-Toews (Unspun Honey).

There will also be a lunch provided by Africola and Soi 38, and drinks available from Mismatch, Applewood, Mila Coffee and Strangelove.

While the aim is for each speaker to impart one idea or one tool to attendees, equally important is the opportunity for hospo workers to spend time amongst peers.

“We all know people, but do we really sit down around a table and chat, and exchange thoughts and ideas, [about] how can we make this city a better place as a whole?” Meira says.

“I want to think GROW is doing that, and we know of really great relationships and collaborations that happened through Grow events in Melbourne, so hopefully that can happen here, too.”

GROW Assembly Adelaide is happening on Monday, 21 October from 9am ‘til 4pm at Electra House. For tickets and further information, visit the GROW Assembly website.

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