What makes a good leader? Is it someone who leads by example and walks the talk or someone who inspires others to perform at their best? Greta Wohlstadt is the perfect example of leadership in motion and she is paving the way for a new breed of energetic and passionate leaders in the Hospitality industry.
In her short but incisive career, Greta, who is in her mid 20’s has made a significant impact on the scene. She is now at the helm of not one, but two of Jock Zonfrillo’s Restaurants; Orana, which has recently won Best Restaurant in Australia in the Gourmet Traveller Awards and its sister restaurant right underneath Bistro Blackwood, which has just undergone a significant transformation.
We sat down with Greta to talk shop and about her love for the industry.
Greta always knew she was passionate about the leadership side of hospitality, and it was when she took over the restaurant two years ago that she knew she’d found her calling. Aspiring to treat her staff how she would have wanted to be treated as a young waiter. She says it’s a privilege to be able to look after and manage people who are so passionate.
She loves the comradery of the industry. The feeling of “going into battle as a team every service”, a feeling which she still feels to this day, and it’s exciting.
It’s that feeling of when the first-person steps into the restaurant and that feeling of “we’re on, let’s do this” that excites Greta. “It’s like theatre”.
Greta recalls her first Hospitality job straight out of high school, walking into a restaurant full to the brim for a Gourmet Traveller wine showcase event. She was on her first trial shift, frightened, and says she cried about three times during her first shift.
It was a whirlwind, and she was chucked into the deep end like so many that start in the industry. Thinking she’s stuffed up, she was surprised when the manager gave her a second chance and asked her to come back. From there she fell in love.
“100% fell head over heels in love,” she says, almost making herself sick before every service for the first six months with nervous anticipation of doing something she was passionate about.
Having aspiration from day one to run her own section, she started out at the bottom running food, polishing glasses, setting tables, and then worked her way up the ranks to having her own table to look after and eventually on to running her first full section.
She remembers vividly that night of running her first section all on her own. She had one table left and in walked George Calombaris and Manu Fieldel who were seated in her section. She was a bundle of nerves, but needless to say, she was hooked on the energy of the industry.
Her passion got her through her early days; writing a lot of notes and writing out the menu, again and again until she got it. And eventually, she did get it. At 19 she became the restaurant manager and stayed in that role for a further year. Looking back now she admits she wasn’t the best restaurant manager at that age and still had a lot to learn, so she left to learn from the best.
After a brief stint at Magill Estate, she moved to Orana, a role which would change the course of her career. Eager for more knowledge and learning like a sponge, this provided the right environment for Greta to flourish. She states making the jump is the best things she’s ever done.
“It’s all about passion in this industry, and that’s what sets you apart from the rest”.
Starting as a baby waiter at Orana, she worked her way up over time to the restaurant manager and now manages both Orana and Bistro Blackwood teams as one. Jock has been one of her most prominent teachers, and he’s like family.
He sits down with Greta and runs through the financials, and teaches her what she needs to learn to run the back of house of the business so as to give her greater confidence to lead her team. He also instills in her a huge amount of trust to run and try new things in the venue giving her the confidence to make decisions.
Greta was nominated for the Gourmet Travellers Maitre D’ of The Year Awards 2017 which she is immensely proud of. A mere six years ago when she first started out in the industry, she saw Lara Marro from Vincenzo’s Cucina Vera win the same award, and Greta knew that was something she wanted to aspire too.
One of the most significant changes she has seen in the industry is in the way people are being managed. People are putting up with less of the old ‘getting screamed at for 14hours a day’, people don’t stand for that anymore. “You’ve got to look after your staff and give a little, and you’ve got to be respectful of their personal lives”.
“If you want to progress as a team, as a business, and as a restaurant, you can’t spend half of your day screaming at your staff because there never going to do anything for you”.
The thing that drives Greta in management is honesty. “If you are honest, kind and understanding, people will follow you”. She doesn’t take the responsibility lightly in leading the people in her team and teaching her team. She also values loyalty.
Learning to balance work and life has been another key lesson for Greta. Having some balance is crucial to success in the industry. Putting a bit of self-care into her schedule is a priority now, as she knows that she needs to show up and be inspired every day because the staff follow her lead.
“They react to every move that you make, and they watch you all the time. If you are smiling and happy, they are as well. It is an immense responsibility to be a leader and a role model”.
Look after yourself first is her piece of advice to people starting out in the industry. Find something that you can do outside of work, because you can’t be the manager you need to be if you don’t.
It’s hard to make a dollar running a restaurant these days, especially fine dining with small margins. “Why would you do it? For passion” She is inspired by this restaurant as its bigger than just her, and she loves being a part of that in some way.
What they are doing at Orana is something unique with preservation of Indigenous culture, and Greta believes in what they do as a team at Orana. “If the food is good, but the service is bad, people won’t come back”. You’ve got to have really extraordinary service because it’s about providing a complete experience to stay at the top of the game in the industry.
With Orana and Bistro Blackwood teams now under one management structure, meaning staff are working across both floors, Greta is busy training and inspiring her team. Bistro Blackwood has been re-launched and is now ‘complete’, she says. The focus is firmly on building and maintaining a cohesive team.
You learn, and you learn fast in a restaurant like this, and in the industry. Greta feels they have the mix right now in the revamped Bistro Blackwood and it’s about giving the guests a true representation of what they do.
If you are after an incredible dining experience, head over and see the team at Orana or Bistro Blackwood, and if you are lucky enough to meet the talent that is Greta, do take note of this rising star and the dedication and passion she brings to every service.