Serving up first class seafood fare within the city of Wollongong, Lagoon Restaurant began as a small family restaurant in 1986, when Director Andrew Harrison was only seven years old. Since then it has become a popular spot for locals, allowing him to expand further upon his parents’ initial culinary vision. One of Lagoon’s most recent developments is their new deck bar and kiosk, providing a more casual alternative for their customers. “We’ve got a beautiful deck outside that overlooks the ocean, and we’re really maximising the space,” he says. “We’ve got a café style menu, which caters to the lower budget, and the beach and park goers as well. We’re doing slider burgers, wraps, and just the normal fish and chips and grilled fish out there.”
Their advantageous location has allowed Lagoon to showcase some prime seafood selections; however, they work hard to ensure that they provide something for every guest, whether they are new or familiar. “Being by the water, we’ve got a lot of seafood dishes,” says Harrison. “We also cater to the non-seafood eaters and vegetarians as well, but we’re predominately seafood. Our philosophy with our cooking is using fresh, local seafood, treating it simply, and presenting the natural, fresh flavours of the produce. We try to source our seafood locally from local fisherman, and our most popular dish on the menu is probably our seafood platter for two – our signature dish. But we also have beautiful, fresh, local lobsters, and the local snapper that we get here in Wollongong is probably one of the best in the world.”
Clearly, the customers agree. Since they’ve opened, Lagoon Restaurant has won a variety of awards, including a spot in the hall of fame for the American Express Best Restaurant Awards. However, “the pinnacle” came in 2014 when they won the LifeStyle Food Award for Australia’s Favourite Restaurant – the best out of all categories, and the largest people’s choice award in the country. Harrison has also been previously awarded Young Businessperson of the Year by the Illawarra Business Chamber, which he holds as an extraordinary personal achievement. Ultimately, he believes that building strong bonds within the community is essential in preserving loyalty and support.
“Wollongong is a relatively small town, so you’ve got to really be in touch with the community,” he says. “I think it’s very important to show your local customers that you support local charities and initiatives, and we do a lot of that. We give away vouchers to school fundraisers and charities. We’re very involved with the Kids Wish organisation; we sponsor them. We host a lot of Cancer Council Events. The biggest Morning Tea in Wollongong, we host at the Lagoon. So, we’re very involved in the community.
It’s good to be involved in all your associations. It’s good to be ahead of the game to know what’s coming up, what the trends are, and things in your industry. Your relationship with suppliers is very important – it’s probably one of the most important things – because you need to get what the trend is from every end supplier. What’s the new produce coming in? You need to keep your eyes and your arms out everywhere just to get the best of everything, so you’ve got to really communicate with suppliers. We’re always negotiating the best deals, so it’s very important to have good, strong relationships with your suppliers.”
Unfortunately, the biggest issues Harrison sees are the rising labour costs, along with the increasing amount of regulative powers involved within the dining industry; however, he believes that these issues can be conquered with dedication and compliance. “I think the restaurants’ penalty rates are really putting a strain on lot of smaller restaurants to open on public holidays, and some even on Sundays,” he says. “So, that’s one of the issues that we’re facing. We’re becoming a very regulated industry as well, where there’s a lot of organisations that you have to deal with. It’s not easy for a restaurant to navigate anywhere from the music that you play, to the produce that you get in, to workplace health and safety. You have to comply to a lot of different authorities; but, if you get the balance right, you’ll be successful.”
While Harrison grew up working various positions at Lagoon, a career as a restaurateur wasn’t an initial point of interest. Following high school, he achieved a degree in Marketing, and began to work for the New South Wales Sports Federation; however, less than a year into his new journey, he decided to return to his roots. “Once you’ve been in the hospitality industry for many years, it becomes engrained in you – it’s in your blood,” he says. “I felt that need to come back, and my parents were more than happy that I came back. In 2004, I started managing the restaurant and my parents took a step back, and I haven’t looked back since then.
I love every minute of the industry; there’s never a dull moment. You’re not only dealing with your customers, but you’re dealing with a lot of staff; you’re dealing with the suppliers. So, there’s always interesting things going on and interesting things to deal with. There’s also stress, but the good times definitely outweigh the bad times. My biggest satisfaction is when I see our loyal customers come back time and time again, and have a great time. That’s the best part about the business; when you make menu changes and you see people coming in and really enjoying what you’ve done, that’s the biggest satisfaction.”