La Dolce Vita! Bella Venezia

Image source: Photographer Jason King Spooning

From casual pizzas and beers to a gastronomic celebration of fine food and service, John Caruso dives into the secrets behind Bella Venezia’s longevity and how they’ve stayed on top.

When I moved to the Sunshine Coast from Melbourne in 2000, one of my earliest memories was eating pizza and enjoying a few Italian beers at a spot on the Mooloolaba Esplanade. I vividly recall the wall mural of Venice in a room at the rear – and many laughs shared with friends. It felt like home and I was living the sweet life.

Fast forward almost 25 years and I’m in the same venue, sitting in one of the lush velvet booths with my wife and teenage son celebrating our May birthdays and enjoying a meticulously presented seven-course degustation with matching wines. The menu includes Mooloolaba Yellowfin Tuna Crudo; house made Ravioli with West Australian Lobster and Mooloolaba King Prawns; and Sous Vide Grain Fed Eye Fillet with a Leek and Potato Terrine – and to cap off the experience, Tonino our waiter was the perfect ‘master of ceremonies’.

The Venetian wall may have disappeared, however the atmosphere and anticipation of good food and good times remain at an establishment that clearly deserves its title as an award-winning ‘institution’ – Bella Venezia. Hospitality businesses don’t survive with a single string to its bow and for Bella Venezia, it has created a symphony of delicious flavours, expert hospitality and one of the most impressive and award-winning wine lists in Australia. Todd and Kristine Young are the conductors of this success, leading with as strong a commitment to business management and marketing as there is to the overall dining experience.

“Bella Venezia is currently a 150 seat, 500 square foot venue and it would have been Carlo the original owner who commissioned the painting of those Venetian scenes, along with terracotta tiles on the floor and arches on the sides of the walls,” Todd recalls. 

Since then, Bella Venezia has gone through several refurbishments, the first in 2018.

“We wanted to modernise the back room while keeping it classic ensuring that the Venetian feel remained,” he says. “The mural is still there, behind the plaster, so if you were to refurbish, you’d find those original paintings.”

A background in sales and retail management grounded and sharpened Todd’s skills with budgets and cash flow. 

“Working in retail taught me a lot about finance, especially running a large supermarket. It was all results-driven and it wasn’t unusual to get a call from your boss if your wages were over budget or if your sales were under,” Todd says. 

“Understanding cash flow is very important and it’s hard to survive in this business without that knowledge. I forecast my cash flow and profitability every day, two weeks out at minimum – I know exactly what my weekly costs are for food, beverages, wages. Everything.”

When you’ve been part of the hospitality landscape for decades and the awards flow as smoothly as the shiraz, I wanted to understand what kind of planning was necessary to keep growing and avoid becoming complacent.

“It’s about staying true to who we are, looking at our business model and tweaking it according to trends,” Todd says. “Running a restaurant in Australia is a tough gig, especially at that higher price point and we’ve seen iconic restaurants pull the pin because the cost of doing business was too high.

“For us, it’s about having different offerings. People can come in off the beach and share pizza and beers while in another area, guests are enjoying a silver-service, fine dining experience with a beautiful wine from Bordeaux,” he explains. “Our takeaway and delivery service also keep the wheels turning.”

While staying out of the red from a business perspective is critical; delving into ‘reds’ is something Todd enjoys.

“I’m the wine director who creates the wine list and I’m lucky to work with our amazing sommeliers with brilliant pedigrees,” he says. “Like the restaurant, our wine list has evolved from twelve bottles to more than 550, all at different price points and we have earned a lot of awards and a three-glass rating, which I’m very proud of.”

I couldn’t help but think that the journey and transformation that Bella Venezia has undergone in the time I’ve called the Coast home, has mirrored my own – from youthful indulgence to a more considered approach and deeper appreciation for the finer things in life – la dolce vita!

WANT MORE? Download the interview with Todd from our podcast.

About the Author /

[email protected]

After 30 years in radio, John now runs the Conversations IN Noosa podcast and in between being our writer, sanity checker, accounts manager, event MC, and delivery boy; he spends time with his first love, recording a daily Drive program for regional radio from home (often in his pyjamas); and presenting Saturday mornings on Hot 91.1. He has previously worked for FoxFM Melbourne, Triple M Brisbane and SeaFM, as well as managing and presenting on ABC Sunshine Coast.

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