In the heart of Melbourne’s north stands cult seafood restaurant, Blu by Australian Seafood Group. Amongst its concrete industrial neighbours, Blu has become an icon of Coburg in its own right and that no other local eateries can match up to Blu’s catch of the day.
Blu’s beginnings aren’t an ordinary start-up or a typical opening of any old fish and chip shop, it is one that has stemmed from the importance of family, passion and the love of feeding people fresh local produce that is made with the best ingredients on offer. Theodore Patsiotis states although opening a fish and chipper wasn’t his first career choice, it soon became apparent that his passion for high quality seafood and ingredients, combined with his natural entrepreneurial attitude could not go unnoticed.
At the age of just 20, Theo couldn’t think of anyone better suited to join him on his new business venture more than his father, Con Patsiotis. Together as partners, they established a prosperous cafe in the heart of Melbourne’s city, before selling it to set up a finance business called The Money Exchange. What followed was eight years of success until 2008 when the Global Financial Crisis struck and their business collapsed, leaving Theo bankrupt. But this didn’t deter Theo, in fact it saw him to overcome this set-back and establish what is now the iconic Blu Seafood restaurant.
Upon reflection, Theo stated, “There was turmoil in the market and we couldn’t get a deal approved to save ourselves. It was really hard and really difficult,”.
The Global Financial Crisis in 2008 stopped many entrepreneurs and small business owners’ dead in their tracks, but Theo still saw the opportunity of a bad situation and continued to think outside the box. Eager to get the ball rolling again, Theo opened Blu, a fish and chip shop in a North Coburg thoroughfare. With a combination of his own business knowledge and his Father’s passion for seafood saw to the creation and rapid growth into what is now a 300-seat award winning fish and chipper.
The restaurant is constantly filled with lively customers and laughter. Crowds across Melbourne flock to get their pick of the fresh locally caught seafood. Families, couples and groups of friends regularly come together to experience the vast menu of delicious freshly caught fish, clams, octopus, prawns, scallops and more accompanied with golden salt covered chips and house-made salads.
Theo’s business background and natural entrepreneurial skills ultimately guided the growth of Blu to be the successful restaurant that it is today. He says that aside from showing commitment, having a deep understanding of your customer’s needs is what gets a business recognised.
“You need to be different in what you do, you can’t offer what everyone is offering,” he said.
“Don’t be scared to test the boundaries…and ask the universe for what you want because usually, you know what, the universe gives it to you.”
Theo’s entrepreneurial spirit and approach to business continued to shine even when asked what sea creature he would associate himself with. Theo says there’s times where he feels like an octopus – a smart creature that can get into small corners, mirroring the qualities you need to become a successful entrepreneur.
Some business advice he would pass on to those aspiring to start their own business, is that a “[A first-time entrepreneur] has to be in the grind. They have to be willing to get in there and understand what they’re doing.”
This advice still remains relevant today as Theo definitely attests that Blu’s success didn’t come without its challenges. The current COVID-19 pandemic has proved testing for the business and is a situation that Theo’s experience could never have prepared him for.
“We just keep providing decent, honest meals to the customer. And when they come to the shop, they feel welcome. But it’s really hard.”
While times are tough for the entire hospitality industry, it’s Theo’s resilience and positive outlook that gives the entrepreneur hope that his business will spring back to life in the near future. He and his staff exude a friendly and welcoming nature, keeping loyal customers returning for a good seafood feed even throughout the strict Melbourne lock-down.
“Once we get through this, I think there’ll be a massive recovery, because just from the customers that I speak to, they just can’t wait to [get back].”
While the seafood restaurant isn’t partnered with mainstream delivery services, you can still order Blu’s menu take-away if you live within the 5km radius. For the real experience, you will have to wait for their doors to reopen, but it is definitely an experience worth waiting for.
“A lot of people come on a Friday night just to hear the back and all the banter that’s happening in the back of the cooking section. But it’s part of having an open kitchen I suppose.”