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Combining business with brotherly love

Friday, 14 December 2012 | By Michelle Hammond

my-best-mistake-barge-brothers-thumbStarting a business with your brothers might sound like a dream come true for some people. It certainly was for restauranteurs Matt, Chris and Tim Barge.

 

But regardless of who you go into business with, you need to define your roles from the get-go. Otherwise, things can get very complicated very quickly.

 

The Barge brothers opened their first resultant, LL Wine & Dine, in Sydney’s Potts Point in February 2010. It quickly cemented itself as one of the city’s “it” eateries.

 

On the back of the success of LL Wine & Dine, the brothers opened Bondi-based restaurant PaperPlanes in mid 2011. Both restaurants offer an Asian fusion menu.

 

PaperPlanes is now set to expand to Echo Beach in Bali and the trendy Meatpacking District in New York City.

 

But in the beginning, the brothers struggled to grow their business due to their stubbornness and inability to delegate.

 

“Our father’s been in the hospitality industry for about 30 years so we literally grew up in restaurants,” Tim says.

 

“When we all left school, we went into the corporate world… But we always wanted to get back into the game, so we just kind of teamed up and decided to have a crack at it ourselves.”

 

All in their 20s at the time, the brothers were determined to do everything on their own.

 

“The number one thing that stood out was trying to do too much ourselves and not wanting external help,” Tim says.

 

“Having dad there… had a very strong influence on all the decisions we made, but we wanted to learn the hard way ourselves. We were a bit stubborn when people would give advice.”

 

As a result, the brothers refused to delegate.

 

“Delegation was something that we’ve learnt and taken on into the business we’re running now. I would probably say delegation was the one mistake we made from the start,” Tim says.

 

“Because there were three of us, it was difficult to define roles of who a certain staff member should go to… We all just wanted to do a bit of everything – it’s like a first baby.

 

“The day-to-day management of staff and what-not [was an issue]… We needed to put more structure in place.

 

“Now, everyone has their place, in a sense, of where staff go to for advice and direction.”

 

While Tim is in charge of business development, Matt takes care of the finances and Chris handles operations. They employ 35 staff across both restaurants and a coffee division.

 

“Under us, we have management that will run the day-to-day of the bar and floor and kitchens… It allows the business to grow a lot better and a lot more organically,” Tim says.

 

“We can only do what we want to do with the right people around us, so the more hands we have the more we’re able to grow. If it was just the three of us, we’d still be in that one restaurant.

 

“With PaperPlanes, the concept we’re working on at the moment is to expand internationally. The Bondi restaurant is about 20% of the overall concept.

 

“The PaperPlanes concept has a beach club element to it. We were over in Bali last year for Matt’s 30th and we were always researching – we’re never relaxing.

 

“We looked at a lot of sites over there and made up our minds we wanted to do business there.”

 

As for New York, Tim says it’s been a dream “from day one”.

 

“Everyone who wants to be an international brand has to have some form of business in that city,” he says.