King of Cuisine
With two new restaurants making waves at the newly updated Wharf in Mooloolaba, it’s quite clear that everything Tony Kelly touches turns to gold. We speak with Tony about Saltwater, Rice Boi, and his love for the Coast as he embarks on the next stage of his impressive career.
Boasting a list of highly regarded establishments next to his name including Junk, Hello Harry, Donut Boyz, Wine Bar and Stokehouse Brisbane (to name a few), Tony Kelly has made a significant mark on the hospitality industry both here and throughout Australia over the course of his career.
Starting out as a chef working all around Australia in hatted restaurants before turning to the business side of hospitality, Tony now describes himself as a serial entrepreneur.
We last featured him in our Foodie issue in June 2015 just as the artisan donut sensation Donut Boyz was taking off.
“I remember the first day of Donut Boyz, we sold 700 donuts in 15 minutes, the next day we sold 1000 donuts in half an hour. On the third day we went in at midnight and sold 1200 donuts in an hour,” he says.
Within six months they had nine franchises between the Sunshine Coast and the Gold Coast and went from making 2000 donuts a week to 25,000.
Meanwhile, Junk and Hello Harry were also gaining serious popularity and Tony decided it was time to sell Donut Boyz to focus on them.
Fast forward another six months and Tony had half a dozen Hello Harry franchises, a new restaurant in Portside, Brisbane, several businesses in Toowoomba, and opened Junk in Melbourne and South Bank, Brisbane.
With three young kids at home and what Tony describes as a ‘very understanding wife’, he decided it was time to focus on life and business on the Sunshine Coast.
I really did believe deep down that the Sunshine Coast was where our brand was the strongest.”
In July 2017, Tony exited the business and took a month off, which proved to be quite difficult for someone with an entrepreneurial calling.
“It got to the stage where I was mowing the lawn every third day,” he laughs.
He knew there were changes in store for The Wharf in Mooloolaba and he had a very good feeling about the location.
“Growing up on the Sunshine Coast, I knew what The Wharf was but it was just hard to envision it when it was dilapidated,” he says.
“The vision Dirk Long had for The Wharf was exactly the reason I stayed on the Coast. I never thought about having a restaurant in Mooloolaba, I thought it was so tourist driven. I was a bit nervous about that.”
But the nerves didn’t stick around for long. Tony had the idea to open an affordable fish and chippery and approached renowned chef Wayd Bailey to join the venture.
“He’s one of the best chefs in Noosa. I wanted to work with him. He’s a family man, he’s passionate and a great chef.”
Tony admits it’s a big transition to go from formal food to fish and chips, but he knew the market was there.
“Whether you’re cooking a beautiful souffle, or you’re frying fish and chips, what you want is to create food that people put in their mouths and go, ‘Oh my God how did you do that?’,” he says.
With Wayd by his side, Tony opened Saltwater on the new and improved Wharf. With its stunning Hamptons interior and clear vision for affordable fish and chips for families, Saltwater has quickly gained traction.
Rice Boi came into the picture shortly after and Tony approached Mitch Smith and Elyza Molloy, two former staff from Junk and Hello Harry. Tony suggested that they create something with longevity, something they could be proud of.
He put it to them, ‘Why don’t we create something that we can have forever and it will be just ours? And it will be all about the food, not about the space, not about the service. It will be about taking photos of food with an iPhone. Let’s make it really raw and gritty and make it about food again’.
Mitch and Elyza came on board as business partners and helped Tony bring his vision to life. The two restaurants, with their contrasting interiors , delicious food and wide market appeal, began receiving line-ups out the door. They’ve since added more seating and the next step is to open a dive bar upstairs where punters can go for a drink while they wait for a table.
We asked Tony how he always stays ahead of the game and gets it oh-so-right every single time. He was unsure of the exact reason, but he believes it comes down to a mix of luck, staying ahead of food trends and creating a value for money experience. We personally think it has a lot to do with Tony’s skills and knowledge gained over the years in the industry.
Whatever it is, we can’t wait to see what the community-focused Rice Boi and Saltwater have in store for the Coast and its hungry residents.
“I feel really fortunate. We want to cement ourselves into the community here, and make sure we can help where we can, we can educate where we can and we want to feed all the people who’ve supported us for many years.”