For young Steven Lebreuilly growing up northeast of Paris, waiting tables was never just a transient job. He had his eye on a much bigger picture.
“I did some work experience in a restaurant and fell in love with it,” he said. “I love people and realised that serving them and making sure they were happy was exactly what I wanted to do.”
Arming himself with a Diploma in Leadership and Management in Hospitality, Steven made people happy from Paris to New York to Sydney, more recently Manly Wharf to be precise, where he’s venue manager of The Tropic.
Rubberstamping the new restaurant and cocktail bar with a totally fresh perspective, Steven wants to attract, well, everyone. From those on a budget looking for a glass of wine and a snack, (the woodfired bread is to die for) to those seeking a long leisurely lunch, (think seafood platter kicked off with a delightful cocktail or two), there is something for everyone with a fabulous view thrown in for free.
The Tropic opened in November as part of the extensive renovations to Ben May’s Manly Wharf Hotel. Steven joined in January, and is also managing May’s The Tropic in Burleigh, visiting every couple of weeks to meet with his Gold Coast team. Manly is his main priority, however, with Steven off to a great start with Executive Chef Francois Poulard in the kitchen.
“Chefs can be territorial and hard to talk to, but working with Francois is a pleasure,” he said. “I love the way he operates and he’s always open to feedback.”
Never forgetting his passion for service, Steven’s floor crew is also meticulously chosen, not so much on experience, but more for a desire to learn.
“Sure, I’m working with a lot of skilled waiters, but I also want to encourage young waiters who have a great attitude. We don’t pay much attention to resumes, I don’t want someone with ten year’s experience who is grumpy because they don’t like what they’re doing. It makes it so much easier to have people around you who cares about their guests.”
Learning from the best
Steven’s vision stems from his own experience, and that’s learning from the best. He’s worked in casual brasseries and Michelin-starred fine dining, including Café Boulud in New York and Paul Bocuse in Lyon, where he was “just a runner”. Of course, being “just a runner” in fine dining involves a little more than carrying plates and clearing tables.
“We would present our guests with a tray of food and serve it in front of them – cut the chicken, right there at the table,” Steven explained. “It was a lot of show, all about offering an experience.”
Steven arrived in Sydney in 2010, a six-month jaunt stretching to a decade, working mostly with Merivale in the city at Felix, Ash St Cellar and Mr Wong. He quickly fell in love with Australia, the love affair becoming permanent when he moved over the bridge to manage Merivale’s Bert’s at Newport.
While Steven admitted his decision to leave Bert’s for The Tropic, wasn’t an easy one, he knew it was time to explore his creativity with a smaller company. He was also enticed by The Tropic’s restaurant manager, Gracy Ticourt.
“I’d worked with Gracy at Bert’s, so I knew The Tropic was in great hands,” he laughed.
Steven’s immediate plans include a retractable awning for the terrace so wharf-side dining isn’t dampened, Sunday champagne brunches throughout summer and a chef’s table inside to complement the open kitchen. Already in full swing is live music on Sunday afternoons from 3pm.
“It’s so relaxing, looking over the water, having a few drinks and listening to music,” Steven said. “It was great working in the city for years with a lot of corporates, but I won’t be going back. There’s too much to love here.”
Read Wendy Kay’s review of The Tropic here.
- The Tropic is open Wednesday to Sunday
- Bookings are welcome but so are walk-ins