We’re going to call it, Simon Gloftis is the man who started the foodie revolution on the Gold Coast. Starting with Little Beans, then now-iconic Greek eatery Hellenika and finally The Fish House, the restaurateur has a slew of local firsts under his belt.
His passion for the Gold Coast’s dining scene has seen him become one of the most familiar faces in town and he’s showing no signs of slowing down.
We chat with Simon about Hellenika’s soon to be opened rooftop bar and the game-changing plans he’s got in store for the Coast.
How did your passion for food came about?
I didn’t realise but obviously growing up in a European family, it was ingrained in me when I was a kid. My godfather has one of the most famous Greek restaurants in Melbourne and we used to go there as a family but I wouldn’t sit at the table I’d go and stand at the door of the kitchen and they’d pass me food and I’d take it out. Then I got a job delivering pizza, worked in a few restaurants, then went to pizza maker and floor manager then I went back to the kitchen. I eventually left hospitality and got my real estate license but every night I was going home and instead of studying the real estate course I was looking at cookbooks so I realised what I loved. I had three cafes on the Gold Coast and then from the cafes I opened Hellenika then Fish House.
What is it you love so much about it?
I literally wake up in the morning and start thinking about food, then I eat food and I don’t stop until I go to bed. It’s my life. I don’t travel anywhere other than for food. When I go to Europe I book the restaurants before I go, even if I’m popping down to Sydney I book the restaurants before I book the flights. It’s all I want to do.
How long have you been a Gold Coast local?
I went to Marymount College from year four. I was born in Melbourne then we moved to Brisbane, back to Melbourne then to the Gold Coast.
What do you love most about living here?
I just think there’s an energy here on the Gold Coast that the bigger cities could only dream about. We can actually make an impact with such a small decision. When I opened up Little Beans in Nobby’s it was probably the only real espresso bar on the Coast and people followed it straight away. We needed these places. In a big city you can make an impact but you get lost. My whole success on the Coast has been because people supported me. They followed me from Three Beans to Little Beans to Piccolo to Hellenika to The Fish House and now back to Hellenika. I’ve got the same customers from back then and some of my staff have worked in all those venues. The Coast has been a massive support for me.
Why are you so passionate about bringing such quality dining venues to the Coast?
Some of it’s a bit selfish, I actually do things I like and then hope enough people like the same thing. I’m a big fan of healthy food, not as in quinoa salad, as in King George Whiting and Greek salad. When you come to one of my restaurants you will get the best produce in Australia, bar none. We’re either equal to, or better than, every other restaurant in the country and that’s my whole motto.
Do you have a personal favourite of all the ones you’ve opened?
Hellenika. I love every one of my venues because they’re all a piece of me but when I walk into Hellenika I feel like it’s home. I eat there five or six nights a week, I’m happy there. I love the nice big wooden tables, the Greek music, the food, and the wine, the feeling. We all say there’s something in the walls at Hellenika, it’s looked after so many people. It feels like it’s been around for 40 years.
What have you got in store for Hellenika?
We renovated the whole building and I put a whole new level on it. Downstairs will be opening next Friday (1st September) and upstairs is probably about eight weeks away. Upstairs will be a bar with a retractable roof. Downstairs has gone from a taverna-style venue. It had that real rustic Melbourne-style Greek restaurant feel. It’s gone away from that now so when you walk in you’re going to feel like you’re in a Greek restaurant in Athens but something that’s modern today. We’ve gone from 110 wines on our list to 500, it’s amazing, there are 50 indigenous wines from Greece alone. We’re taking everything to the next level. We’ve added some new dishes to the menu – kept about 60% of the favourites – but added some really traditional Greek dishes. Things like Corfu Bianco which is my favourite dish, it’s potatoes and Kingfish baked in the oven with olive oil and lemon juice. So simple but so beautiful.
It’s going to be a touch more formal downstairs and then upstairs is a lot more casual. It’ll be all the mezze food, which is tapas in Greek. Things like pork belly, meatballs, zucchini chips, all that lighter stuff. The bar upstairs will be the main focus, we just want people to be able to come and have a light dinner or snack and drinks. We’ll try and be open until midnight every night upstairs so there’s no guessing if we’re open. You can feel comfortable to go at 10 o’clock at night and have a wine.
What are your thoughts on the rapidly growing dining scene of late?
To give you an example, seven years ago I had to explain what share food was. We had to tell people that food comes to the middle of the table and it’s sort of like a Chinese restaurant. Hellenika was also the first one to do double sittings. Now, that’s commonplace. Nine of my ex staff have opened up venues between Broadbeach and Palm Beach, most of your favourites were opened by my ex staff. I’m really proud of what’s happened on the Gold Coast, if I had a small part to do with it, that’s great.
How would you like to see our foodie scene change or grow over the next few years?
We’ve opened up all the venues I think it might be enough now, there’s nearly one restaurant per person. I think there might be a little bit of hardship to come, just because I know how hard it can be. I’m hoping we consolidate a little bit and maybe get more quality into what we’ve already got before we think about expanding too much further. We need all these local restaurants to make sure what they’re doing is the best they can do. I think it’s neglectful to customers if you start giving them things that are making them sick like artificial flavours and enhancers. I’m hoping we improve on what we’ve got before we grow too much more.
What’s happening after the rooftop is up and running?
I sold The Fish House to do an amazing project, which I can’t mention for a few months but that’s the next big one. Hellenika will always be my baby but I’ve got plans for something that will really be game changing. I can’t wait to launch it.
Being a Gold Coast local, we have to ask your favourites...
Café: For someone who’s owned cafes, I don’t hang out in cafes. I do pop down to get a smoothie or juice from Smoothie Shack, that’s about the extent of it.
Restaurant: Can I mention a few? For steak, Glenelg Public House, again Aaron used to work with me. For soup I go to New Saigon and get my Pho. For ribs I go to Fire Cue. For sushi I go to Sapporo in Broadbeach, they’re the only ones on the Gold Coast that I know buys the same quality seafood I do (just ask them what their best dish of the day is and go with that). For hot pot I go to Itoshin in Mermaid Beach. My cousin owns The Lamb Shop in Broadbeach so I’m always up there. Pinocchio in Mermaid Beach do a really good fennel salad.
Weekend hang: I’m working on weekends but my weekend is during the week. I’m just hanging out in Nobby’s. The boys and I always get together on a Tuesday and have dinner, that’s my thing. My family owns Miami Marketta so I’m there a lot to watch a band and hang out.