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Aug 28, 2012

The Power Index: foodies, steak king Neil Perry at #3

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 n

Amber Jamieson — Freelance journalist in New York

Amber Jamieson

Freelance journalist in New York

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. *Read the full profile at The Power Index

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