Spicing up the food industry
Shane Delia, chef and restaurateur
24 years ago, a young Shane Delia was on a mission.
He wanted to become a chef.
After spending a great deal of time understanding what that would mean and what he would have to sacrifice, listening to a myriad of people tell him not to do it, he was still passionate and determined to do it, if not more so.
Fast forward to today; Shane is one of the most prominent chefs and restaurateurs in the Melbourne hospitality industry.
The Delia Group boasts premium restaurant, named after his wife, Maha along with Maha East - an offshoot to its more formal counterpart.
At a more accessible level, Biggie Smalls brings a bit of fun; a kebab shop re-imagined, mixed with a bit of 90s hip hop culture. It’s a reflection of Shane’s personality and the things he loves.
The most recent addition to Delia Group, Middle Ground opened last month at Melbourne Airport offering commuters a healthy a salad bowl experience with a Middle Eastern twist.
The Delia Group’s prime goal is to exceed customer expectations.
“Whether it’s a phone call, reply on social media or direct conversation, we want to exceed their expectations. We set the bar pretty high for ourselves. So to exceed those expectations, it is a hard task,” Shane says.
He believes value is determined by the customer and it comes in many different forms.
“If you had a great sensory experience, if the flavour of the food was exceptional, if the wine service was great, if the waiter took some time to invest into you, if you learn something throughout the evening. Or if we just left you alone to enjoy the company in a great environment and you left there thinking that was a brilliant night.”
“That's real value.”
When Biggie Smalls launched into the market as a quick service restaurant (QSR), it was a traditional marketplace. Customers would come in, buy a product, either eat in or take it away. Shane explains as the owner you get 100 per cent of the sale. “And all the traffic predominately came through the shop front door.”
Six months after Biggie Smalls opened, the hospitality world was disrupted with the introduction of delivery services such as Uber Eats, changing the way people dine.
Shane believes this marketplace model is here to stay because it meets the customer’s needs, however it has resulted in significant change to the market.
“From a traditional model where you'll serve 100 per cent of the sales through the shopfront, now you may serve 30 per cent of the sales through the shopfront and the rest of it's going out the back door and you're losing a big percentage of that sale in commission,” he says.
In order to put his customers first, Shane highlights the need to change with the times.
“Customers don’t always want to come in and have the experience with the beautiful fit out and have hot food sitting down at the table. Now, they experience us through another way,” Shane says.
“So what do we do? We don’t just turn a blind eye and say, ‘OK, that's just the way it is and we can't make it any better’, we try to work with these partners and work with our customers to provide a product that they want that works for all people involved.”
A position of strength
While the business of hospitality can be a roller coaster, having flexibility with partners and suppliers is key for Shane.
“The relationship we have with the bank [ANZ] is our most paramount relationship. At the end of the day, dollars make the world go round.”
Speaking to flexibility and relationships, Shane says,”We can put a balance sheet together, we can put a budget together, we can put a prospectus to show what we should be doing. But it doesn't always add up like that. Having rigid people and partners is never going to work in hospitality.”
“We've established a great relationship with our bank manager and that's come out of friendship. He understands me as a person,” Shane says.
“When we're looking to do a new business, they're not just interested in dollars and cents, what bottom line we're going to get. They're actually looking at who we are, how we're invested into it and what our skill sets are and if we have the perseverance to achieve it.”
He continues “It's not just solely about the net profit percentage. We feel like they do have our best interests at heart and that when things are tough, they're not going to just walk away. It's a great position to be in, a position of strength.”
Kriston Schalken, ANZ Regional Executive says customers, like Shane, genuinely appreciate this approach, focusing on listening and learning about them not just the numbers.
“Understanding our customer’s business, their goals and unique approach is critical to our customer proposition. This allows us [ANZ] to genuinely add value with our tools and insights to help our customers achieve their goals.”
Kriston adds “This is particularly important as our customers are constantly adapting to disruption and change within their industries. It builds great trust, strong advocacy and long-lasting relationships.”
The inspiration of Maha
Shane fondly talks about the inspiration and meaning behind the restaurant’s name Maha and his love of family. “Family is the most important thing. Our work family, our business family. My blood family means everything to me,” he says.
Naming his restaurants after his wife Maha was a testament to help opening Shane’s eyes to what was most dear to him.
Shane was a chef long before he met Maha and after having worked in kitchens since he was 16 years old, had started to question his career choice.
“I thought I'd achieved everything that I set out to achieve. I didn't have high expectations of myself and neither did the people around me at that early stage of my career. But Maha always believed in me,” he says.
At 27 years of age and about to get married, Shane was ready to throw in the towel with cooking, considering taking up another career path in a trade or the police force.
But a holiday the couple took together back to the Middle East, visiting places such as Jordan, Egypt, Morocco and Malta, where Shane’s family is from, changed everything and reignited his passion for food, hospitality, cuisine, storytelling and teaching.
“We came back and she [Maha] backed me. And for that reason, I decided to name the first restaurant Maha,” Shane remembers fondly.
Shane's food is inspired by Middle Eastern flavours and culture.
Asked what he wants to be remembered for, Shane says he would love to be known for giving Middle Eastern culture and food an opportunity to express itself beyond the limitations of what's in the Middle East.
“We live in a very liberated environment here in Australia. You can do what you want to do, you can, to an extent believe what you want to believe and express yourself in any way you want,” he says.
“I think that in this environment, Middle Eastern food and culture can really prosper because it's not shackled by race, religion, politics, war, gender. It’s just brought here for its purity and let loose”.
Popping dairy on the shelf