A restaurant that grows everything it serves sounds like a nice dream, but in the case of Beaconsfield’s O.MY, it’s a reality. The road there, however, has been a long and winding one, according to its founders, brothers Blayne and Chayse Bertoncello. By John Burfitt
When talking about lessons of success with Blayne Bertoncello, head chef of O.MY on the outskirts of Melbourne, initially there’s the usual chitchat about processes like smart ordering, working with a good team and offering something the punters really want.
Then the tone of the conversation changes, as Blayne stresses why it is so important to never forget the times of struggle, when the greatest lessons can be learned, and shifts within the business can occur. As indeed was the case with O.MY—which he runs with his sommelier brother Chayse—at the end of their second year of operation in 2015.
“We had been struggling and doing absolutely everything we could to keep the doors open,” recalls 27-year-old Blayne. “We were doing up to five menus throughout the day and putting everything we had into it, but really not getting much from it.
“After all of that, we were at the point where when we closed at the end of that year, we had to open a little burger stand out front of the restaurant just to pay ourselves wages.”
Reaching that point, says Blayne, made him far less afraid to take risks. When some months later on a Sunday night he decided to include a degustation offering on the menu, he and Chayse were stunned when, of the 25 diners that O.MY accommodates, 20 ordered degustation. Later that night, the brothers huddled together to consider if this could be a sign of a far better direction for the future.
“We both looked at each other and said, ‘Stuff it, let’s go for it!’” recalls 24-year-old Chayse. “The next week, we closed breakfast and lunch, and for dinner just did the degustation. That’s how we’ve been ever since.”
Not that it was an immediate hit, explains Blayne. “We were quiet for a while, then a few people came in, and then we went quiet again. It was a matter of sticking to our guns and knowing this would work. Then we had a couple of good reviews when The Age newspaper gave us a hat, and it started rolling. Very soon, we were booked out Friday and Saturday nights for months.”
The citations also followed, in the Time Out Melbourne Food Awards and the Sunday Herald Sun delicious 100, and they were nominated at the Gourmet Traveller Restaurant Awards. Then came a number of Savour Australia Restaurant & Catering Hostplus awards, including 2017’s award for National Contemporary Australian Restaurant: Informal.
In the beginning
It had been a long road since early 2013 when Blayne, Chayse and another brother Tyson took the old butcher shop in the main street of their hometown of Beaconsfield and transformed it into a restaurant.
“We pretty much backed ourselves. If we made a mistake, it was on us and we couldn’t blame it on anyone else. This was entirely what we wanted to do.”—Chayse Bertoncello, co-founder, O.MY
The trio had been working in a number of local restaurants for years; Blayne and Tyson as chefs and Chayse as a waiter. When the opportunity to do their own thing seemed too good to pass up, they got busy and created O.MY. Tyson has since left the business to pursue avenues in the art world.
“We did it all ourselves as the budget was that tight, starting with fitting out the kitchen and then painting the entire place,” Chayse says. “We pretty much backed ourselves. If we made a mistake, it was on us and we couldn’t blame it on anyone else. This was entirely what we wanted to do.”
What gave O.MY a decided edge, not to mention a point of difference in relation to their competition, was the offer from local farmer Robbie Mynott to use his farm, located only a few kilometres down the road, to grow their own produce. What started as a garden bed strip of just 50 metres now utilises three quarters of the 1.2-hectare property, growing 150 varieties of fruits and vegetables, including pumpkin, cabbage and artichokes. As a result, O.MY now grows an estimated 98 per cent of the food that is served, with Blayne and all the chefs as involved in tending the plants at the farm as they are cooking them up in the restaurant kitchen.
“The only reason it’s not 100 per cent is because of the meat and dairy products we buy in,” Blayne says. “Our whole menu is what we grow. I’m trying to close the gap between farming and cooking, and that’s important for many reasons.
“I feel this is a very sustainable way to go about business. We know exactly where everything we’re using is coming from, and we’re getting everything local so it’s good for our environmental impact.”
Being involved in the whole process, from planting the seeds to harvesting, preparing and serving meals to the guests, has also had a powerful impact on the way the team works in the kitchen.
“This way of working makes us never, ever take our vegetables for granted, and when you’re buying so little in, it forces you to do some really creative things,” Blayne says. “If you’re working with a limited yield, then you have to look at maximising everything you have, and very often, that makes you come up with really interesting things for the menu.”
It was only a few months back that the brothers decided on a vegetarian menu, to further maximise what they had coming in from the farm. “We’re about 98 per cent vegetarian now, and we did that without telling anyone,” Chayse explains. “We were putting pieces of beef on the plate for the sake of [including] a piece of meat.” Blayne adds, “It’s a very vegetable-dominant menu now, but it’s cooked with a bit of meat here and there. And the customers seem happy with that.”
This approach also limits the amount of waste from the kitchen, with considerable thought put into how every part of each vegetable can be used. Blayne says that, for example, they have only a limited stock of pumpkins to work with in the coming winter season.
“We will use the whole pumpkin; the offcuts might be used to make a pasta, or we work with the skin and toast up the seeds to make all kinds of different things,” he explains.
“It’s great when the chefs working with me say, ‘I’ve never thought much about the product before it gets to the kitchen, but now I am following it from the soil up’. This marks such a change in the way we all work.”—Blayne Bertoncello, co-founder, O.MY
This approach has had a significant effect on the O.MY team of chefs, who are also on a roster to work at the farm. “It’s been an amazing way to teach people how to cook away from the kitchen,” Blayne says. “It’s great when the chefs working with me say, ‘I’ve never thought much about the product before it gets to the kitchen, but now I am following it from the soil up’. This marks such a change in the way we all work.”
A hit with locals
Beaconsfield, where the brothers grew up, is where Melbourne’s city limits give way to sprawling farmland, and O.MY’s supply farm is only minutes away from their kitchen door. But being 45 minutes from downtown also means it’s a long way from the inner-city crowds who traditionally are the ones who devotedly follow and set food trends but are notorious for not wanting to travel. Chayse explains shifting the focus of O.MY to fine-dining, degustation-only fare in their location was never an issue.
“It was never even a thought for us as we know how it is out here—this area is said to be one of the fastest-growing regions in Australia, and we’ve many young families with available disposable income,” he says.
“There’s been no shortage of people who want somewhere good to go for dinner, especially for important dates such as birthdays, anniversaries and other celebrations. What we have provided means they don’t need to take a long trip through traffic into the city in order to get a meal they’ll really enjoy.”
Adds Blayne, “We stuck to our guns, and the market adapted to us, I guess. We didn’t have the money for big advertising or flashy websites, so we relied on word of mouth, and that seemed to work best.”
Good business sense
While working with food directly harvested from the land has created a profound experience for the team and has played a significant role in establishing the O.MY story, the question remains of the cost-effectiveness of doing so.
“Overall, I think it works out much better,” Blayne claims. “Honestly, I really don’t care about that as we just care about the quality and the story of the way the food gets to the plate,” Chayse interjects. “Having the farm is actually very expensive, but we didn’t open this place to roll around in Ferraris. We just wanted to do our food our way and to run the place the way we wanted.”
The delineation of duties is clear at O.MY: Chayse is in charge of front of house and Blayne drives both the kitchen and the farm. Having hit the five-year mark, the brothers have their management double-act down to a fine art. Blayne admits it’s their closeness that has helped them ride through some of the tougher times.
“Chayse and I are best friends,” he says. “We have so much fun together, and that’s the key to it. The best part is that sometimes, at the end of a long day, we will sit back and have a beer together and look at what we’ve achieved, and we both go, ‘This is really cool!’”