Market Makers at Market Bistro
There is no doubt that the dining experience is elevated when sublime food is paired with superb service and when it comes to both Market Bistro is certainly a leader in the field. Deb Caruso chats with Luke Stringer to discover the secret sauce to good service.
The Tony Kelly Restaurant Group is a powerhouse in the Sunshine Coast hospitality scene with seven sensational venues and two boutique bottleshops in its stable.
From the modern Asian flavours of Riceboi, Giddy Geisha and Piggyback; a slice of Greece with Spero and the small-town hospitality of Eudlo General Store; to the modern Italian flavour sensations at Bocca and Market Bistro; the group thrives and survives on delivering exceptional food in a warm and welcoming environment.
Luke Stringer heads up Market Bistro, the two Market Wine Stores and Bocca Italian. As Restaurant Manager and now, part-owner, he brings experience, passion and a solid understanding of what it takes to deliver great service.
For him, it is all about creating and nurturing memorable relationships.
“Chefs are in the spotlight which is a great thing but for me, front of house is the secret sauce and where the venue can truly shine,” he says. “It’s something that as a diner, you shouldn’t have to think about but when the service is either really great or really bad, it influences the whole experience.
“The truth is, if you go somewhere and the food is great but the service isn’t, you won’t go back. If the food is ok but the service is great, you’re more likely to give it another go. We aim to deliver on all levels.”
Luke believes that people thrive on being remembered, loved and cared for and I certainly agree.
Seeing the welcoming and familiar faces of the front of house team at any venue immediately elevates the experience. When they remember your liking for a particular dish, wine (chardonnay please!) or food allergy, it makes you feel at home.
Market Bistro are the masters at delivering this kind of experience.
“We treat people like they’re coming into our own home for a meal,” Luke says. “We are nourishing people and providing one of the basic human needs. It’s very intimate and there is a lot of trust for us to deliver.
“My team know that every single customer is important and you want to build trust and relationships with them.”
Luke grew up in Noosa and was in high school when he filled in a dishwashing shift for a surfing buddy. That led to a casual job in the kitchen getting paid $5 per hour.
“It was horrible but I loved it,” he said. “I fell in love with hospitality so I started working whatever hours I could get until I left school.
“I quickly worked out that the kitchen was not where I wanted to be, I wanted to be front of house where the action was – and that was it.”
While Luke’s lawyer father didn’t see this as an ideal career, Luke forged on and straight-out of grade twelve, was part of the crew that opened Sheraton Noosa.
More openings followed and over the past three decades Luke has worked with some of the best in the business including Noosa food identity Luc Turschwell before moving to Melbourne to work with the likes of Teage Ezard at Guernica and later Ezards; and Andrew McConnel at Circa The Prince.
Luke eventually became a part owner at Oyster Little Bourke with Frank Wilden and Jo Vargetto, winning him The Service Excellence Award in the Good Food Guide.
After more than a decade in Melbourne, he returned to Queensland opening his own venture before joining the team at Olé Spanish Restaurant in Southbank as General Manager and opening The Sangria Bar, Che Asado, Olé Fuego, Mucho Mexicano and Downtown Istanbul over a 5-year timeframe.
Bali came next with roles as General Manager for The Good Food Brotherhood – Watercress, Milk & Madu and Ulekan and later, The Brett Hospitality Group running Mason, Fishbone Local and The Back Room.
Returning home, he finetuned his coffee knowledge as GM for Campos before returning to the Coast in March 2020 when the hospitality world was in turmoil.
“I caught up with Tony Kelly who offered me a role at Spero so I took it,” he said. “I brought passion, energy and love and it fired – and this is where we are today.”
Luke’s drive at Spero led to a discussion about Market Bistro which opened in December 2020 with Tony Kelly wanting it to be a full-service venue known as much for its hospitality as its food.
Harry Lilai was secured as Head Chef and Luke assured Tony he could build a solid front-of-house team to deliver exceptional front-of-house service.
“Harry’s food, combined with some of Tony’s signature dishes, won all the hearts early as I was building my dream team,” Luke said. “Getting Nick Winter on as Manager and supported by co-Assistant Managers Simone Bordignon and Marco Abbarchi, was a key element.”
Nick and Luke had worked together in Melbourne so Luke was excited about the chance to bring him into the business.
“Part of the secret to my personal success has been forging relationships and keeping good people close so that you can bring them in and build them up,” he said. “Having a solid team and nurturing them is key.”
Luke said he was grateful for the opportunities that had been presented to him, particularly to be a part-owner in Bocca and Market Bistro.
“My whole career I’ve put in the hard work and passion and I appreciate that Tony was open to my pitch for Bocca,” he said. “To see my idea come to fruition and be exactly what I pictured, that’s so inspiring.”
Luke now manages both venues with Tatjana Francese as Manager supported by Isaac Saunders and Nikki Fewster as co-Assistant Managers at Bocca.
“Nick is now me at Market Bistro, Tatjana is me at Bocca and I’m at both venues every day but I give the team the opportunities to own the roles and to grow,” he said. “I love and appreciate them and they know that. It means everything.”
The Tony Kelly Restaurant Group is proof that hospitality can be a respected career with opportunities for growth and expansion in an environment where pairing great food with personalised attention and warm hospitality is all part of the service.