The friends and partners
behind Sweetlips are
always looking at how to
improve their restaurants.
Emily Morgan reports.
FROM the outside, a fish and chips shop
might seem like the frivolous end of
the dining scene but, make no mistake,
Sweetlips is committed to quality, taste and
Michael Waldock and Stephen Gangemi took
up residence with the first Sweetlips restaurant
in Leederville 16 years ago and built on their
business, opening a Fremantle store in 2006.
Their commitment goes beyond delivering
humble chips and fillets, these primary school
pals and business partners have been bolstering
the quality standards for the fish and chips shop
ever since they took over the Leederville store.
“Leederville itself was establishing and
becoming what it is today,”
Mr Waldock said.
“David Bianchi had the cafe on the corner
and already had Giardinis, Oxford 130 had
opened up and had a real buzz about it. The
fish shop there still had fishing nets hanging
from the ceilings, plastic seagulls and all that
sort of thing.
“That was typical of that time, but I think
the industry has smartened up. Now you see
fish displays and a high standard of cooking,
which is good for the industry.”
Mr Waldock and Mr Gangemi broadened the
menu in the early days to introduce fresh fish
back to the store, something which had existed
in the shop’s history, having operated as a fish
shop since 1918.
Not wanting to alienate their existing market,
the pair slowly introduced new items and
more sought-after fish and, with time, the taste
“Where we differentiate from a lot of fish
shops is, a lot of them are built down to a price,
we have always wanted to set a standard in produce
and quality of food,” Mr Waldock said.
“Obviously, around that you are trying to
get the best price you can, but we would never
allow the quality of food to be watered down.
“There are many different chips on the market
and some that are far cheaper than what we
use now, but unless we find something cheaper
and what we consider equal quality to what we
use now, we would never downgrade.
“We have set a benchmark for what we
want to produce and over the years that is
what has helped us grow our business.”
Every 12 to 18 months the business is
overhauled, with some menu items taken
off and others added.
“We have a monthly meeting with our
accountant to review figures month by
month. That has been a real key for us to
keep the business on track. If you don’t do
that things can slip away almost from under
your feet without you really knowing it,” Mr
“It is those sorts of things that give us
confidence that every month we are heading
where we expect to be heading.
“Over the years you learn every way you
could potentially go out of business and
there are a lot of those. Just because your
sales are going up, it doesn’t mean your profitability
is going up.
“We have years when our sales have been
higher than other years, but our profitability
might be less than other years. It is a real
learning curve in getting things to go in the
Sweetlips employs 15 staff and managers
in each store, but the owners say they keep
in touch by getting their hands dirty.
“Rather than have a full-time filleter, we
keep in touch with the shop by going in
there, cutting the fish and, I suppose, supporting
the management team and discussing
any issues they have. We keep involved with
it that way,” Mr Waldock said.
The pair have known each other since
they were six years old and, while Mr
Waldock said he was aware of the advice
not to get involved in business with friends,
he believed there was an upside to knowing
your business partner well.
“We have known each other since grade
one so there is a level of understanding and
trust,” Mr Waldock said.
“Business is sort of like a marriage, there
are so many things that need to be considered
in relation to your business partner. There
has to be communication and you have to
be forthright in saying how you feel about
As for extending the brand, Mr Waldock
said their eyes were open, but it was a matter
of finding the right location.
“We have committed to getting a large
demographic study done on where another
shop would be situated,” he said.
“We have two examples of businesses that
work, so we know there are other demographics
that can work, but we need to nail
down whether we want to roll out two or
three more shops and where they would be