Rock around the clock

Elvis Abrahanowicz of Porteno, Bodega 1904, Wyno and now Bastardo and Humble. Image: Naomi Doyle

With its distinctive style and innovative food, the team behind Porteno restaurant continues to go from strength to strength, with the opening of two new restaurants. Co-founder Elvis Abrahanowicz shares with Lynne Testoni his take on new ventures and stopping to smell the roses—or not. 

The Porteno crew (led by Elvis Abrahanowicz and business partners Ben Milgate and Joseph Valore) is a true hospitality success story. Based in inner-city Sydney, as well as Porteno (an Argentinean-style barbecue eatery), the hospo heavyweights are behind Bodega 1904 (tapas), Wyno Bar and Shop—and now two new projects, Bastardo trattoria (Italian) and Humble Bakery. With each venture celebrating a different style, menu and decor, Abrahanowicz talks about creating something new every time and what comes first—the idea or the venue.

So what keeps driving you to open more venues?

Stupidity? I don’t know. It’s just what we do, I guess. I don’t know how to do anything else. Opportunities come along and if we see the right kind of projects, we take it on board.

So is it the excitement of something new or when you see a great venue?

It’s a combination of both. Sometimes you see a venue and then you get an idea. Sometimes you have an idea and then a suitable location comes up. There’s no formula to it.

Now with the opening of Bastardo and Humble (in Holt Street, Surry Hills, next to Porteno and Wyno) you’ve got a bit of an enclave there, don’t you?

Yeah, it’s a little precinct. It’s been good because you can oversee everything a little bit better. I can jump in there and help out the staff and everything. Because they are so close together, the staff can move between venues, which is kind of cool and it does help a lot. I remember when Porteno was down the road on Cleveland Street, and we had Bodega in Surry Hills and it was much harder. Even though it was only a few blocks away, some days you just couldn’t get there because you would get bogged down in work at the other restaurant. But now, because they’re literally right next to each other, the staff can take a few steps and be in there. 

The interior of Bastardo. Image supplied.

Was it easier or harder than you anticipated to add these extra two venues?

It’s never easy. Nothing’s ever easy. Nothing we do is ever easy. As soon as we open a venue, it is ‘Oh, what were we thinking?’

When you open a venue do you start from scratch? Or do you have a bit of a formula?

There are some things we do the same way because we’ve done so many and learnt lessons, but not everything can be done that way. No one venue is the same; they’re all so unique. Certain things we always do similarly, like the back-of-house stuff, but the venues themselves are pretty individual. They’re always a bit different, which makes it a bit tricky to manage sometimes. You try and improve every time I guess, when you’re creating a new restaurant and we try not to make the same mistakes we made in the last one.

Did you set up Bastardo during COVID? How was that? Nobody could have predicted that happening.

Yes, we did. We were going to do something like that anyway—and the bakery as well—and they both happened at the same time. There was no plan to ever do that. But it’s the way it happened, and you just go with it. You just do it; you just get it done.

You’ve been doing this for quite a while now. If you went back and spoke to your 25-year-old self, what would you say?

Don’t do it! (laughs). I would just take it each day as it comes. I never really thought about it. It just kind of happens. And it keeps evolving and evolving. Sometimes I think, ‘Wow—so many venues and staff.’ But day to day, I don’t really think about it.

You just get on with it and keep working?

That’s it, yeah. And just try to improve every day and see where we can make things better. And that’s about it. When you look at the big picture, it’s pretty crazy. If you had told me how big the group would get when I was 25, I wouldn’t have believed it. But I don’t stop to think about it—I’m too busy! There’s always something on and then I go home and have the kids and stuff like that. There’s never a time to take it all in. It’s just go, go, go, most of the time. But you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way.