Beside the seaside
For fresh seafood served in stunning waterfront locations, gourmands need look no further than Dedes Group – a family-run restaurant group with heart
Good food tends to come from long family traditions and experience, and the same goes for restaurants.
Australian restaurant company Dedes Group is the culmination of one family’s 35 years in hospitality and it shows in the quality of its six seafood-oriented restaurants. Owner Con Dedes recalls a childhood based largely in his Greek parents’ successful restaurants, learning the trade and developing a passion for the business.
“After finishing my degree [in Land Economics], through the connections my family had, I was given a wonderful opportunity by the then secretary manager of the Canterbury Leagues Club to open a seafood restaurant in the club,” he says. “Along with a good mate of mine, who was a chef, we opened, and the rest is history.”
Six years later, in 1997, Con opened Dedes Restaurant in the Sydney Rowing Club (SRC) in Abbotsford, where his parents had run a seafood restaurant in the 70s. This elegant a la carte restaurant was the first of the six varied restaurants that today make up Dedes Group, in which Con works alongside his wife Kerrie and, since two years ago, his sister-in-law Lisa. Con’s parents may have retired now, but the business is still very much a family affair.
At the water’s edge
Something else special about Dedes Group restaurants is their waterfront locations. Con says this is due partly to good fortune and partly to his lifelong love of being by the water. “I can remember that as a child, with my parents – being new Australians – we would enjoy fresh seafood by the water’s edge,” he says.
“The taste of prawns as you watch a beautiful sunset over the water is something you can’t erase – and is something that has always made me happy. You have to admit, seafood and water views go hand-in-hand.
Maybe it is linked to my Greek heritage.”
Dedes Restaurant in SRC sits on a picturesque bend of the Parramatta River. Its website claims it offers “modern, contemporary cuisine in a casual, yet elegant setting”. Con calls it the “mother ship” that helped define the rest of the group. “I love the consistency of this product, 15 years on,” he adds. “I also love that we have many loyal customers who have been with us for a long time. The team at Dedes, also, has been very loyal in the most part – that’s pretty special in this day and age.” Dedes has won numerous ‘Best Restaurant’ awards over the past four years.
The Watergrill bistro offers an alternate experience at the Sydney Rowing Club, and has another venue in Kirribilli, North Sydney. This is a more casual option, featuring alfresco dining above the water. “It’s based on great quality food at a particular price point – and is an extremely consistent product,” says Con. “I love the feel of this brand. It’s fresh and the teams behind it really know how to work.” Watergrill was named ‘Best Casual Dining Venue’ in the ClubsNSW Awards for Excellence in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
In January 2004, Dedes Group opened another restaurant called the Flying Fish, situated at the end of Jones Bay Wharf in Pyermont, Sydney. This sophisticated restaurant was awarded one Chef’s Hat in the 2012 Good Food Guide Awards, which called it a “seafood haven” and commented: “The seasonality and delicacy of the produce is faultless and the plating impressively pretty.” Four years later, Dedes Group opened another Flying Fish restaurant in Fiji.
The next restaurant was Deckhouse, which opened on Woolwich Dock in 2010. Con’s favourite thing about Deckhouse is “the wonderful view and the ambience you feel in the venue”, which is unsurprising given the panoramic views it provides of Sydney Harbour. It was named ‘National Best Breakfast Restaurant’ in the Restaurant & Catering Awards. “We are thrilled with the win,” comments Con. “Sydney is very popular for breakfast so I couldn’t be happier that it’s for our breakfast service.”
A year later came Flying Fish & Chips, which Con describes as a “high-end take-away fish and chip shop”.
Located in the café court of the Star entertainment complex in Pyrmont, it has a licenced bar and offers dishes including everything from classic fish and chips to fresh sushi. “I love the build of this one, it’s unique and a real talking point,” remarks Con. “The food is sensational and, as with all our venues, we have a wonderful team.”
Dedes Group’s most recent creation is Little Fish, a brand launched in 2012. This is the new name for the bar area outside Flying Fish, which now offers affordable bar food to attract more casual and frequent diners.
Looking after people
The Dedes Group restaurants all offer something different, but share the same simple principles of great service and great food. Con has always placed great emphasis on looking after people – customers, staff and suppliers – just like his father before him. “’Look after your people son’ was my father’s favourite piece of advice to me,” he says.
“From that, my team and I focus on service first and food second. We can all get carried away with complexities, but, at the end of the day, hospitality is about great service and great food – this is what people remember. Hospitality is about serving people… and when it comes to food, it’s using the very best product available seasonally that makes the difference.” Con’s devotion to service hasn’t gone unnoticed, and in 2011 he was crowned ‘Restraunteur of the Year’ in the Restaurant and Catering Association Awards.
Dedes Group’s suppliers are integral to the fulfilment of its principles. Con claims the company prefers to stay loyal to its suppliers rather than always shopping around for the best price – meaning some suppliers, such as Poulos Bros Seafood, have been supplying the Dedes family since before Con founded the group. “All of our suppliers are fantastic and important to us,” he says.
“In fact, recently we held a suppliers function at Deckhouse to say ‘thank you’ to them. I think it was a surprise to most of them because suppliers are not normally on the receiving end of such a function. It was fabulous to see so many familiar faces interacting with each other. We are only as good as the products we buy and the people who prepare them.”
Hand on heart
As the suppliers function shows, Con takes no-one for granted and endeavours to show his gratitude whenever he can. The same goes for two very important charities that helped him out long before he got into business: HeartKids, which supports families of children with heart disease, and Heart Research Australia, which raises funds for research into treating and preventing heart disease.
“I was once a HeartKid myself, having had a valve in my heart replaced at eight years old, then further surgery at 30,” he reveals. “I am now an ambassador and generous supporter of both these charities and have been for many years, as I believe I have benefited from the wonderful research and development that has occurred in the last 40 years and I feel very blessed to be here.”
HeartKids and Heart Research Australia are just two charities of several that Dedes Group supports, owing to Con’s belief in giving. “I believe you get more from giving than any other single pursuit you can undertake in your life,” he says. “And giving is not so hard when you know you owe a lot to the people who have helped you on your way.”
This year, Con began a campaign to give more to Dedes Group customers. “We made a decision this year to reconnect, reward and recognise our guests more in 2012/2013,” he says. “This is an on-going piece of work including a rewards program we’re looking to launch next year, and an iPad app in the form of a magazine we will release mid-December this year.”
Dedes Group is also working on various training programs for its 200 staff members and, while it has no immediate plans for opening new venues, Con says, “there is always room for more”. His aspirations for 2013 are short and sweet.
“More awards; recognition from our guests that we are doing a great job; staff satisfaction – that’s important to me; time out for myself and my family – that’s also important to me; giving back and, finally, balance – that is the key.”