Creating a cultural revolution
He was called crazy when he ignored the experts and gambled everything on his love for live music; now he’s a success story with five thriving businesses to his name. The man behind the revival of nighttime entertainment on the Sunshine Coast, Dimitris Limnatitis, shares his story.
For Sunshine Coast locals, Ocean Street is an institution: a cultural playground where revellers both young and old go to indulge their senses and enjoy the vibrant atmosphere.
In fact, it’s hard to remember what the Coast’s nightlife was like before the street exploded onto the scene, with its exotic dining experiences and lively social spark, six years ago.
But for the man behind it all, Dimitris Limnatitis, this is a time he recalls all too well, with the Coast’s lack of live music venues acting as the catalyst that inspired him to risk everything in a business decision no one else believed would work.
When you’re passionate about something, it’s different and you’ll do anything to make it work.”
Dimi’s story is truly a rollercoaster of highs and lows on the path to self-made success. At the age of 19, he and his family migrated to Australia in search of a fresh start, after his father’s business in Cyprus collapsed. Originally based in Sydney, Dimi found himself drawn to the Sunshine Coast and its familiar sunny weather, officially making it his home in 2000. While he started out as a cabinet maker by trade, the scenic location and a newfound love of watersports inspired Dimi to take up photography. And although he dropped out of his diploma six months in, it was this passion and a thirst to prove himself, that inspired his first big business venture – a successful wakeboarding publication that went national, before taking off in the United States.
“I headed my own publishing company without it (a diploma) just to show people that a piece of paper is not everything,” says Dimi with pride. He has every right to be proud too, considering he led the magazine for 12 years despite still struggling to read and write in English.
“That’s why, when I interview people, I don’t worry about ‘that’ piece of paper. I can teach anyone to be a great employee, but I can’t teach personality, enthusiasm or drive. If you’ve got that, everything else will come with it.”
Dimi eventually had to let go of his publishing company, and for the next two years, found himself living in Cotton Tree Caravan Park while he contemplated his next move – one that turned out to be his greatest business triumph.
In a gutsy plan, Dimi approached the owners of former Ocean Street estblishment Club Envy with a proposition to take over the struggling business. At the same time, he approached the owner of the original Solbar in Coolum, which had since closed down, and requested permission to use their name in a genius move that would ensure a pre-established reputation among locals.
Despite the warnings from a number of local experts who believed the concept of an establishment outside of Mooloolaba would fail, Dimi took a gamble and forged ahead with his plans. Three days and $4000 in renovations later, the revival of Ocean Street had begun.
“The minute we opened the doors we just had line after line of people waiting to get in, and it’s been like that ever since,” says Dimi.
“Mooloolaba was too commercial, too regulated and there were a lot of older people living there, so you couldn’t do much. Ocean Street has very few neighbours, and the old strip club had a liquor license and good acoustics. There are not many places on the Coast where you can actually have bands because of the council regulations, so that’s why I decided to break away.”
Fast forward a year, and despite Solbar’s success, Dimi and his eventual business partner Alex Johns, realised that in order to maintain its popularity, they had to turn the street into a destination – and the way to do that was by offering a dining experience that was too good to ignore. Inspired by Dimi and his wife’s Mediterranean heritages and the unique and authentic eateries of Melbourne, The Piano Bar opened in 2012 and was an instant hit.
“That was my main thing, to bring the authenticity to people, and when it came to the food I just rang my mum and said, ‘Give me some recipes’, and then hired chefs to make them.”
From there, Dimi’s vision for Ocean Street continued to grow. He expanded Solbar and went on to start three more businesses on the strip: Machu Picchu, Old Soul, and La Canteena.
In addition to drawing other major business players to the street with his success, Dimi has used it as a platform to promote the arts, teaming up with other passionate locals to create the Maroochydore Revitalisation Association and introducing cultural events like the Ocean Street Night Markets and the annual Ocean Street World Festival, which attracted more than 40,000 people last month.
He has also been a vocal advocate for multicultural diversity in the local workforce – an effort which saw him inducted into the Sunshine Coast Multicultural Awards Hall of Fame in 2014.
“I started working when I was just 13 and people ask me, ‘How did you do that?’ but I don’t think it was a choice. I think that’s why you see a lot of multicultural people achieve success – obviously we are hard workers, but there’s also the fact that we know if we don’t succeed, we may have to go back. You can’t expect others to give you something for free; if you want something in life, you have to go and get it.”
“There are not many places on the Coast where you can actually have bands because of the council regulations, so that’s why I decided to break away.”
Despite the incredible amount he has done for the region through his once ‘crazy’ business decision to revive the Coast’s nightlife, Dimi remains humble.
“I don’t think I’ve done anything incredible – I haven’t reinvented the wheel, I just looked at what was working in other countries and states and cities,” he says.
But he does have advice for others out there who, like him, have dared to dream big.
“You’ve just got to believe in yourself and not let anyone stop you. Everyone said to me, ‘Don’t be silly, it’s a stupid idea’. But you need to take risks in life, and I believed what I was trying to do was something that the Coast needed.
“But most of all, it’s passion that’s the number one driver of success. Don’t do it for money; if you’re doing it just for money you’ll fail because you aren’t emotional about it. When you’re passionate about something, it’s different and you’ll do anything to make it work.”