overtures of romance and style
Mark Wilson, Lia Mason and Lee Middendorf all met when the three of them were working in hospitality jobs at The Sandbar Grill in Casuarina in 2005. A lot has happened since those early days of friendship: Mark and Lia are now married, and along with their good friend Lee, they now own the restaurant.
“In 2009, Lia and I were travelling through Italy when we heard the restaurant was for sale,” Mark says. “We called Lee, who’d moved to Adelaide, and within days the three of us had put an offer in.” They called the restaurant Osteria – the Italian name for a simple style restaurant, in ode to their European holiday.
It’s a romantic story and one that attributes much of its success to romance. In the next 18 months, Osteria will host more then 250 weddings, bringing 19,000 guests to the Tweed Coast. The business now employs 135 staff, with 45 of them full-time, and 13 apprentices developing trade skills.
The success of Osteria has enabled Mark, Lia and Lee to open three other venues in the area in the past two years – Taverna in Kingscliff inspired by holidays in Greece, Ancora their function centre on Tweed River which will soon also be a cafe, and Indian restaurant The Bombay Cricketers Club at Salt in Kingscliff.
Patience and persistence are the foundation of this success story, with things moving very slowly in Osteria’s early days.
“The restaurant was built in the new suburb of Casuarina that probably only had 100 homes in it at the time, but the function centre space held 400 people and the restaurant could serve 150,” Mark says.
The rebuild was gradual: they opened a café with the basics and only opened the restaurant two nights a week.
“We were struggling to survive in such a small marketplace with such a large venue,” Mark says.
It was weddings and events that changed everything. “This allowed us to stabilise our business and continue to invest in it and develop the diverse and successful venues that we have today.”
Despite Osteria’s large-scale success being driven by drawing people from outside the region, Mark, Lia and Lee’s hearts are with their connection to local community.
“This region is a living, breathing, connected thing,” Mark says, adding that organisations like Destination Tweed bring a vital collaborative approach to business in the region.