Hospo CheckIn: Paul Wilson

Chef Paul Wilson and his wife Bec, moved to the Mornington Peninsula from Melbourne in 2019 to work with the team at Morgan’s Sorrento. Then along came 2020… 

We checked in with Paul who is adapting his life and the business to this new world we all find ourselves in. 

Despite also having to deal with sad news from the UK – where he grew up – he finds there’s still a lot to look forward to. 

1.     How have you adapted your business during these two lockdowns?

 It’s been very interesting journey. We were involved in a significant hotel rebirth and the owner also had a busy beachside eatery so we decided to knock back opportunities with our city clients to consolidate and focus on this one regional client. We relocated to  Sorrento due to the travel restrictions and uncertainty around the industry re openings.

The hotel project remains uncertain due change in ownership but we are glad we made the move to the coast out of the city during the subsequent pandemic. This has been my new normal. 

I initially created a takeaway concept and comfort food-to-go range for my client which was sympathetic to the areas and client’s commercial needs.

Fish pies, wagyu beef rendang, slow-roasted prime rib, all became weekly go to dishes to take home for the locals whilst creating and operating a gourmet burger bar for our client.

The reaction was very positive from a goodwill and marketing perspective while engaging the workforce but financially it was a simple return.

After the next lock-down, we sensed that the community was a bit jaded and in need of some value and comfort. With our client we decided to rebrand the entire  venue moving away from a Modern restaurant and seafood to a nostalgic food pub offering and a tight food and beverage offer of refreshed retro crowd-pleasers.

This went down extremely well with the local’s mature client bases. It gave our client hope he could combat this Covid new normal while creating a solid identity for his business’s annual winter trade.

During this second lockdown, our client then had unreasonable demands from his landlord regarding so we decided it was cheaper to close and refresh the team and have a break to protect everyone’s mental health. 

Then, sadly my father passed and we decided it was time for us to have a break from everything and to mourn properly and stay in  constant touch with my family in the UK.  Dealing with Covid restrictions has been awful for my brother’s navigating aged care and restrictions around funerals in the UK.

All in all, we were relieved we could take a break from our business and delivering a very successful concept for our client.

2.     What has surprised you about yourself during this time? 

I learnt the more stress and tragedy you encounter the more you can condition yourself to conquer the stress and grief around that. To be at peace while understanding it’s part of life’s journey was an invaluable lesson.

And it’s important to make time to face these challenges and break them down. This way you can attribute a process towards solving them. Working in normal hospo, you rarely have time to do this. 

Also, sometimes you’re not always in control so stress and worry is a waste of energy.

All the while understanding there are always others far worse off than yourself who need your support and strength

This period has really motivated me to remain positive, kind and considered to others.

Lifestyle helps tremendously, too. After my father passed, I decided to buy a mountain bike and increase my exercise reducing my alcohol, meat and dairy intake.

Immediately I felt a difference and highly recommend subtle changes to your lifestyle. It really supports a better tolerance to life’s challenges and indeed a better style of life.

 3. How are you & your team?

I am feeling really refreshed, upbeat and creative.

This period has allowed me to cook ,enjoy and appreciate my team which is essentially my wife Bec. Our recent journey opening a great restaurant which took three years then finding out it wasn’t very fulfilling, added a great deal of pressure on our relationship, circle of friends and industry colleagues.

It taught us so much beyond great food and hospitality excellence than anyone can imagine of which we are extremely thankful for and have no regrets.

We love the industry. Having a sea change has meant we are staying in touch with a select few industry colleagues, suppliers and farmers offering support, advice, reassurance, and recipes. Cooking delicious home cooked food to our new industry colleagues has been very cathartic as I feel we are all in this together and part of a greater sense of community.

I’ve also enjoyed raising awareness about the challenges of the hospo industry which needs to re-open urgently despite it being a very divisive subject I believe we will won’t be in control of Covid for some time. 

Our industry doesn’t have the luxury of waiting. I am hoping some good will come out of this pandemic in terms of government reforms and ongoing support and the industry in Victoria will rise again better than ever. 

Australia needs Melbourne to rock again, we all need Melbourne to rock again as without dreams there is no reality.  

 Lastly, I highly recommend a sea change or when permitted, to explore regional Victoria.  It really is something special being so close to the sea and nature. There are wonderful communities, restaurants, hotels and pubs that punch above their weight and provide a wonderful world class escape.

Morgans Sorrento