Belloccio Restaurant opened its doors on Oxford Street in 2013, serving – as its tagline says – “beautiful food for beautiful people”. The “beautiful people” that owner, Colin Paull, is referring to are the generous, unique, welcoming members of the LGBTQI community.
The Greek word, philotimo is one that defies translation; it encapsulates a spirit, philosophy, inherent human quality. It’s what Paull lives by and what he believes defines the people around him.
“It is what our community is: when someone’s hungry you give them a plate of food; when someone’s down, you put your hand out and you pick them up; when someone doesn’t have somewhere to live, you give them a bed to sleep at night,” says Paull.
Belloccio won the Business Award at the 2019 Honour Awards, and Paull accepted the award alongside Carina Grace, one of the many local talents for whom he has provided a stage in his restaurant.
Paull and his husband, co-owner Garfield Tanasak, support a number of charities. The restaurant is a safe house and regularly provides free meals for the homeless.
“During COVID we offered free meals to the needy that have lost their jobs, that are out of work, that don’t have savings and need some support. We were doing 17-20 free meals a day,” says Paull.
Even his staff prepared meals in their own time and supplied them to friends and community members who were hard up.
The name Belloccio is an Italian dialect that roughly translates as “fine eye” or “an eye for beauty”, and for Paull, it’s an eye that sees beauty in all…well, almost.
Like so many restaurants, Belloccio was forced to stack its chairs when the lockdown was announced on March 27. Even before that date Paull had noticed a decline in traffic and revenue and was struggling to pay rent. By switching to take-away and home delivery the restaurant managed to sustain a meagre income but eventually, revenue dropped by 97%.
He immediately approached his landlord to see if they could negotiate an arrangement that suited them both.
“My main issue was more about looking after our staff more than anything else – and keeping our business model alive,” says Paull.
Calls, text messages, emails to the landlord went unacknowledged, then on April 4, Paull received a Breach of Duty Notice from an agent in Surry Hills who had apparently just been appointed by the landlord.
Paull was told to immediately comply and pay arrears, which he was unable to do. None of the compromises he offered were accepted, including paying them a percentage of revenue and a portion of the City of Sydney stimulus grant he’d been given. They wanted the entire grant amount, but Paull had planned to allocate much of it to his employees.
“Because a lot of my staff are not covered by the Jobkeeper package, my main issue is I need to keep my team alive,” says Paull.
On April 27 the agent changed the locks on the restaurant doors, effectively evicting Paull. He has been allowed one hour on one day only to access the premises and retrieve whatever items he can in that time.
A mediation date has been set by the NSW Business Commissioner and until then, pending the outcome, the restaurant will remain closed.
It could have meant the end of Belloccio had not Dillon Shaw, manager of nightclub, Universal, contacted Paull and offered him use of their kitchen.
Universal had to shut down because of COVID-19 and Shaw saw no point in leaving his kitchen dormant while a much-loved restaurant owner was kitchen-less.
Belloccio is now offering take-away and home delivery from Universal, and will continue to run the kitchen after lockdown is lifted.
“They’ve been very very nice – beautiful community spirit…I have the utmost respect for our community. We have people with the highest integrity. We’ve got people that are loving and caring….that are concerned about your well-being,” says Paull.
That praise goes beyond Universal. Paull has received support at every level from many, many people.
Tanya Plebersek rang him to congratulate Belloccio on doing free meals for the homeless.
“Alex Greenwich has been in contact with me nearly everyday…Christine Forster and her beautiful wife, Virginia. They have been a pillar of strength…Senator Penny Wong, full support. Senator Kristina Keneally cannot believe what they’re doing to us. Katy Gallagher, another senator, has contacted us. The liberal senator from Western Australia has offered his support. Trent Zimmerman, again another beautiful politician offering support. So many people. Jess Scully, Deputy Lord Mayor of Sydney has been in contact with me. Ben Cabello, the treasurer of SGLBA has offered support. The Darlinghurst Business Partnership has been in contact with me every day, every single day.”
Paull and his husband, Tanasak are overwhelmed by this display of philotimo.
“We feel as operators that we’ve got the most beautiful customers in the world – and we do.”
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