For Ian Oakes, owner of Drake Eatery in Sydney’s Bondi Beach, food and travel go hand in hand. “One of the reasons I became a chef was because I knew I could always travel with it,” he says, and for almost two decades he followed that passion around the world – from salmon fishing camps on the banks of Scotland’s River Deveron to sun-drenched Southern Italy and Michelin-starred restaurants in London.
When he wasn’t working he continued to travel, expanding his repertoire as he went. “Eating is a huge part of the travel experience for me, and not just fine dining,” he says. “I love to see what produce the locals are using and how they cook with it.”
But it was at a suburban home in Sydney’s south that he first fell in love with cooking. “My grandma lived on Drake Avenue in Caringbah and I used to visit when I was young and cook with her,” he recalls. “So when I opened my own venue in Bondi, I called it Drake Eatery in tribute to her.”
Fittingly, he favours “an old-school style of cooking” – think twice-baked cheddar soufflé and duck liver parfait made using centuries-old techniques – that emphasises seasonal produce and minimises wastage.
This focus on sustainability tapped into broader community attitudes in Bondi, helping his restaurant stand out from the crowd and become a firm favourite among locals since opening in 2015.
It’s also been a hit with high-profile visitors, like acclaimed British chef Marco Pierre White who says he dined at Drake “20 times in two months” while living and working in Sydney in 2017.
But for Oakes, sustainability is not just a buzzword. “It has really helped the business because it makes us examine all of our practices,” says Oakes. “We look at everything from waste to what we’re buying and where we’re sourcing it, and that hands-on approach means we can streamline each of those processes.”
That attention to detail is on full display in the many ways Oakes uses his favourite ingredient. “The other aspect of the restaurant’s name is that a drake is a male duck,” he explains. “It’s such a versatile protein and we get the whole animal in, so every part is used; I can sell the breast as one dish, use the fat to confit the legs, turn the livers into a parfait, use the necks for rillettes, make jerky from the tenderloins and a stock out of the bones.”
By working only with whole birds, the restaurant cuts down on plastic and packaging. And because Oakes works closely with his suppliers, he’s able to put in small orders to further minimise wastage and reduce his outgoing costs. “That’s obviously good for the environment, which is incredibly important. But it’s also good for the business.”
The chef has just five produce suppliers, some of whom he worked with long before opening Drake, so maintaining a good relationship with each one is vital. “Having up to 51 days to pay for purchases¹ on my American Express® Qantas Business Rewards Card is really useful,” he says. “That frees up cash flow for other things, like staff wages, and our suppliers know they’ll get their money on time, which is really good for those relationships.”
He also earns up to 1.25 Qantas Points per $1 on supplier payments2 and up to 2 Qantas Points per $1 on other purchases² made with his Card, points he uses on his two great passions: food and travel. “I use the Qantas Points I earn to travel, and when I get home I use a KitchenAid I bought with Qantas Points at the Rewards Store to perfect the recipes for my own restaurant.”
But for Oakes, the greatest rewards come from running a business he loves and working with suppliers who share his philosophy of keeping everything as close to home as possible, following the seasons and minimising environmental impact.
“The easiest way to reduce your footprint is to keep things local. Most of our produce comes from NSW – even our liquor supplier is a local family-owned business – and the octopus on the menu at the moment is literally caught out the front,” he says, nodding towards the iconic coastline. “The boats go out Sydney Heads, past Bondi to Maroubra and I can practically see them when I go surfing. You can’t get more local than that.”
Unlock the possibilities
Ian Oakes shares his top small business tips.
- The key to… managing surprise expenses
“We recently had to pay fees to the Department of Home Affairs to sponsor one of our chefs from Argentina. That’s a big expense for a small business like ours and payment is required upfront. Having no pre-set spending limit3 on my American Express Qantas Business Rewards Card was really useful and, as an added bonus, we earn up to 2 Qantas Points per $1 on purchases2.”
- The key to... time management
“Use whatever tools are at your disposal so you can focus on what you do well. Having up to 51 days to pay1 on our Card helps us extend our cash flow – we can always pay our suppliers, even when cash flow is limited, and still have funds to pay staff. That saves us time, because they’re not chasing us for payment and we can concentrate on running the restaurant.”
- The key to... customer loyalty
“Having an understanding of what your customers want is really important. We're in Bondi, where everyone is quite conscious of what they’re putting in their bodies, so our customers want us to do the right thing by them and the environment. That’s also an ethos we believe in so it’s a really good match.”
- The key to... creativity
“Inspiration can come from anywhere. I go to the Bondi Markets every Saturday to see what fresh produce is there and when we travel, I’m always looking at how the locals eat. My wife, Alex, and I used Qantas Points we earned with our Card to get married in Puglia [Italy] in 2019 and we applied a lot of inspiration from that trip to the menu when we got back.”
- The key to... employee retention
“Staff turnover in restaurants can be quite high but we have a longstanding loyal team because we make sure that they understand what we’re trying to achieve and why they’re important. They’re like part of our family and we know what’s going on in their lives as well. When my sous-chef needed to go back to Italy, we gave them Qantas Points we earned through the business to help make that happen.”
Please note: This interview was conducted prior to lockdown restrictions and therefore mentions of any outdoor activity and staff turnover within the business were raised in a pre-lockdown context. As Greater Sydney is currently under stay at home orders, you can't visit Drake Eatery at this time, however you can still show your support and purchase from their updated daily menu at drakeeatery.com.au. You can stay up to date with the developing COVID-19 situation in Sydney, as well as current restrictions, at NSW Health.
*120,000 bonus Qantas Points: Offer only available to new American Express Card Members who apply by 2 November 2022, are approved and spend $3,000 on their new Card in the first two (2) months from the Card approval date. Card Members who currently hold or who have previously held any other Card product issued by American Express Australia Limited in the preceding 18 month period are ineligible for this offer. 120,000 Bonus Qantas Points will be awarded to the eligible Card Member's Account 8-10 weeks after the spend criteria has been met. Subject to the American Express® Qantas Business Rewards Card Points Terms and Conditions. $450 annual fee applies. This advertised offer is not applicable or valid in conjunction with any other advertised or promotional offer.