You can’t escape Neil Perry — even if you want to.
His Rockpool Group runs eight venues across three states, which have garnered 11 Good Food Guide hats between them. For nearly a decade he’s been popping up on our TV screens and in our magazines. Even in the air you’re eating Perry’s tucker, thanks to his 16-year relationship with Qantas. Add in his connections with James Packer’s Crown, and you’d be hard pressed to find an industry Perry hasn’t dipped his finger into for a taste.
But it’s his famous ponytail that most Australians remember him for.
“I’m getting to the stage where I’m thinking ‘should I be cutting it off?” but I just can’t think of any other look,” the ex-hairdressing apprentice says, laughing down the phone line to The Power Index. “Single-minded, you see. It’s been part of a brand for me. I didn’t think of it that way, but I’ve become synonymous with it in the industry.”
With more than 30 years working in hospitality, the Rockpool founder has become synonymous with a lot of things: modern Australian and Asian cooking. Steaks. Relationships with the big end of town. A love for quality Australian produce. And a one-eyed obsession about everything he does.
Food industry insiders say Perry exists in his own world: “Planet Perry”. “We’re very single minded about what we do and I think you’ve got to be to be successful,” admits Perry. “Sometimes people say I’m arrogant or whatever. That generally comes across [because of] just not having enough time to do the things I’d like to do.”
What he does like to do is open successful restaurants — although he’s had his fair share of unsuccessful ones over the years. His Rockpool Group runs three restaurants in Sydney (Rockpool on George, Rockpool Bar & Grill and Spice Temple), four in Melbourne (Rockpool Bar & Grill, Spice Temple, The Waiting Room and Rosetta, which opens September 14) and one in Perth (Rockpool Bar & Grill). The company is budgeting to spend $26 million on staff wages in 2013.
The location of Rockpool’s venues also hints at Perry’s powerful connections. As one food reviewer puts it: “Half of their restaurants are in a hideous, disgusting casino.” All of Perry’s Melbourne restaurants are located in the Crown Casino complex. His Perth restaurant sits in the Burswood Entertainment Complex, a casino and entertainment complex owned by Crown Limited.
Plus, flagstaff restaurant Rockpool on George is widely assumed to be a loss leader, helpful for gaining foodie cred, but useless at making money. Instead it’s the highly profitable relationship with Crown — which gives support in the form of cheap rent, fit-out and marketing support — that helps make his restaurants so successful.
Not that he hides his gambling connections. Perry names James Packer as one of his business mentors: “James is just fantastic and has been very generous with his time and advice.”
There’s a strong relationship between the two businesses. “I sort of think that Rockpool Bar & Grill brand and Spice Temple co-exist with the Crown brand,” says Perry. That’s particularly interesting since Crown just announced a Crown Towers hotel in Perth and a new entertainment precinct in Sydney’s Banagaroo.