The idea driving the new Hutt Street venue promises to redefine hospitality as an industry, not just an experience.
Inside Part Time Lover’s sequel: SOFIA
There are too many ways I could start this story.
This story is about Josh Baker’s next venue; his first in four years. It’s a story about his ongoing collaboration with property developer John Savva. It’s a story about the evolution of hospitality in our city, and it’s a story about human beings owning the value they bring to their city.
This is the story of Sofia.
Sofia: The mother of invention
“John’s beautiful mum passed away suddenly and unexpectedly this year,” says Josh Baker.
He’s referring to his business partner in Part Time Lover, Whistle & Flute, and Funtopia – John Savva. John is a co-founder and director of Leedwell Property.
John sits on the bench alongside Josh. His head dips at the mention of his mother. His eyes stare through the glass and crockery on the table.
We’re sharing lunch inside PTL five years after the pair first brought me to this spot – then – nothing more than a thoroughfare.
We’re here to talk about the next venue – the new breakfast, lunch, and dinner (BLD) spot their hospitality group are building at the corner of Hutt Street and East Terrace.
The new venue will be named after John’s mum.
I write, “Sophia” in my notebook. John corrects me.
I write it again, Sofia.
Sofia: Open to everyone
“I guess I’m interested in legacy,” says John. “And evolution.”
“The fact that my sisters and I will argue over a jar of Mum’s olives rather than her jewellery makes me realise what sort of legacy I’m interested in.
“Mum’s kitchen was always open. To everyone,” he says.
Sofia will be an ode to openness: Open all hours. Open to all ages. Open to new ideas. Open to new owners.
Josh and John aren’t the first to create an employee-to-owner pathway for hospitality workers in Adelaide. The small venue licence encouraged a new wave of entrepreneurialism in hospitality and Simon Kardachi famously (and successfully) made his best staff—waiters, chefs, and bartenders—partners in each new bar/restaurant he opened across Adelaide.
Sofia will be owned and operated in a similar way.
While the vision for Sofia come from the existing owners of Part Time Lover: Josh and John, as well as chef Stewart Wesson and front of house guru Luke Turton, it’ll be new blood that brings the vision to life.
Paul Lynch and Adrian Bernardi who both cut their teeth at PTL will be owner-operators at Sofia; manager and head chef, respectively.
“Declan Robb too,” says Josh, adding another name to Sofia’s roster of owners. Josh clarifies that Declan bought into PTL before Sofia and will take over as head chef as Stewart takes up the executive chef role.
Sofia: A remarkable business model
More than a business name and ABN, the owners of Sofia will own a share of the building their restaurant occupies. In effect, they will pay rent to themselves.
Sofia will transform a defunct and daggy building into something relevant and exciting, and those responsible for the transformation will own (some of) the value of that transformation.
Which is rare, to say the least.
Property developers all over the world have long leveraged artists, bohemians, and creatives of all types to occupy and activate low-rent areas and refresh a neighbourhood’s brand while boosting property values. This is kind of how Renew Adelaide works – but tenants get free rent for their sweat equity.
In the Sofia model, the creative people bringing new customers and attention to the underdeveloped end of town will actually earn more than spare change from the coffee, food, and booze they trade across the counter. They will own the change in perception they effect on that part of the city.
But what about you?
How will any of this affect your experience at Sofia?
It’s hard to say. It’ll be subtle, is my guess.
It’ll be the lipstick smear you don’t find on your glass and the napkin you don’t need to fold up and chock the leg of your wobbling table. It’s the sort of business model that encourages plates, glasses, and tables to be symbiotically designed to fit all the food and drink at once, without overlapping or overhanging and without provoking anxiety in OCD guests.
Sofia’s business model will reveal itself as a waiter’s cheeky offer of tequila in the morning (rather than your regular coffee). It’s a business model you will feel—burning the back of your throat—the morning you take up that same offer.
Sofia: Staff wanted
Chef Stewart Wesson has just knocked off work and joined Josh and John at the table we’ve moved to, outside. We commend each dish accordingly, but all agree the Banh Mi croquettes were absolutely weird and fantastic.
Stewart is actively recruiting for Sofia’s kitchen. Stewart’s front-of-house counterpart at PTL, Luke Turton is also recruiting for new staff across both venues.
“I’ve had pots and pans thrown at me. I’ve got cuts and burns. There was no mercy in the kitchens I grew up in,” says Stewart. “That’s not our future, it’s pretty much the opposite of where this group is headed.”
Luke tells me, “experience” isn’t all he’s looking for in his recruiting mission.
“Hospitality is really just one thing,” says Luke. “It’s the decision to look after people. And when you genuinely understand that, and you’ve made that decision, then we want to work with you.”
Sofia: Hospitality is wealth
With the global hospitality market set to almost double in size from $3,953 billion to $6,716 billion in the next five years, the group’s ambition has plenty of runway to take off from in Adelaide.
It’s nice to think as the world’s wealth concentrates in the hands of fewer and fewer people, that a little business model in Adelaide is seeking to do the opposite.
Regardless of whether Josh, John, Stewart, and Luke are revolutionaries dedicated to offsetting late-stage capitalism, it’s nice to talk with people who believe success can be based on, “a decision to look after people” instead of rip them off.
Sofia is set to launch early 2024.