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Hartsyard’s Dorothy Lee On Staying True To Your Idea And Challenging Customers

January 14 / Australia

Restaurateurs Dorothy Lee and Jarrod Walsh say customers will always respond to food that entertains and intrigues, no matter if it comes via a plate or a box at your door.

Hartsyard in Sydney’s Inner West has evolved plenty in its near-decade lifespan. Originally touting North American delicacies like fried chicken and squeaky-cheese poutine under previous owners, the restaurant’s menu has shifted from the decadent to the delicate with current custodians Jarrod Walsh and Dot Lee. Nestled on Enmore Road, among a surging tide of lauded foodie hotspots, its unique blend of casual fine dining fare in a “non-pretentious” setting, sets it apart from some of its neighbours. Food is fresh and considered with a big focus on seasonality and innovation.

You’ll find Murray cod, tamari-glazed eggplant, Hervey Bay scallops and green lip abalone take centre stage on an everchanging menu, denoting an elevated approach to their dining experience. Desserts also have a Hartsyard spin. Sour blueberry and vanilla parfait may be on offer one day, black sesame and lemon sherbet the next, whilst on the bar, there are marginally less complex menu items like braised oxtongue with black pepper gravy in a potato bun or potato galette with curry rouille.

“A combination of who we are and what we love to eat.”

Taking ownership of the 60-seat venue in 2018, Lee and Walsh have succeeded in adding their own personality to Hartsyard – one that represents not only their taste in food but also their relationship and partners in love and business. Lee, who grew up in Hong Kong and runs the front of house and PR operations, says the menu is based on their different cultural backgrounds. Head Chef Jarrod meanwhile grew up in Port Macquarie “…and the result is “…a combination of who we are and what we love to eat.”

Lee uses the word “interesting” a lot to explain everything from the food to the drinks while the décor is simple as to not detract from either, stating that their food goes hand in hand with their personal approach to service. She says her team is tasked with spending more time with each of their customers than ever before to provide a better experience, explaining that “interaction” has been missing from food since Covid forced the restaurant to close.

“Come in with an open mind.”

Taking over a business offers unique challenges. Keep the name? Change the menu? For Lee and Walsh, who both worked at the venue under its previous owners, “good memories” and an alignment with the “fundamental idea” of the restaurant, meant they wanted to build on, rather than change, the soul of Hartyard. “We’re just here to provide good food and a good time…the name meant something to us.”

So, what have they learned since taking over? Firstly, staying true to a core belief is essential in encouraging others to buy into a concept. Alongside practical and ongoing restaurant hurdles like staffing and sourcing the best produce, Lee says the biggest obstacle for them was encouraging people to try the more left-field section of the menu – which is where their heart really sits. “We’re constantly saying, ‘we would love you to try…’. Come in with an open mind.”

Alongside encouraging customers to buy into their version of East meets West, Lee says Covid has forced them to play around with logistical elements of the business, such as opening times to find a better balance for customers and for themselves as owners. Having dabbled with lunch services and opening all seven days of the week, she says four days for dinner feels better “right now”.

“Covid made me realise that I was like, oh my God, I have no control.” She exclaims. “So, it was a period where I couldn’t stick to something. I feel like, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what you do, you just need to believe the position that you made is the best for your business. And this is being true to yourself.”

“It’s not just about making money anymore feel like people value interaction.”

As with many venues, delivery became a lifeline for the Hartsyard team and enabled them to stay connected with their customers and provided staff with ongoing roles during the lockdown. Their at-home taster menu offered a kind of window into the full Hartsyard experience, “a little bit like coming in and eating with us,” she laughs, with dishes like maple roasted pumpkin with labneh and furikake, hash browns with smoked garlic aioli or sweet and sour glazed lamb ribs advertised on their social channels. Now that the venue is back open, Lee still sees delivery as an ongoing part of the business, even if the kinks of the how and who aren’t quite yet ironed out.

But whatever the future holds, Lee acknowledges that the learnings of the past will inform their future. “It’s not just about making money anymore. I feel like people value interaction… that has changed so much.” Her advice to prospective restauranteurs; “have a very clear vision of what you want to offer to people in your area”.

“I think right now the competition is high and risky but if you have a clear idea of what to do and a clear message then I think you’ll be successful.”