Barry Pearson – Illawarra Business Leaders Interview

Episode #5: Barry Pearson – Papi Dulce

For the Illawarra Business Leaders Interviews, Trever Molenaar sat down with Barry Pearson co-owner of Papi Dulce (affectionately known as the Second Best Burgers in 2515).


This interview is filled with loads of useful tips for all budding entrepreneurs, and honest accounts of what starting a business is really like. Along with how to find out if your partner is a good choice, and most importantly the best burger!

Sit back, relax and enjoy episode #5 of the Illawarra Business Leaders Interviews with Barry Pearson.





Barry Pearson 0:00
had like a really tough 16 months. But we just put our heads down and worked hard to get on the other side of it and we came out the other side.

Trever Molenaar 0:10
Welcome to series two of the illawarra business leaders here I peel back the layers of a rich and diverse business culture, perfect for those interested in all things business. Now let’s get into it.

So we’re talking to Barry from Papi Dulce, is that how you say it Barry, say it for us

Barry Pearson 0:30
Papi Dulce.

Trever Molenaar 0:31
So yeah, as the sign says what does the sign say before we start.

Barry Pearson 0:35
Second best burgers in 2515

Trever Molenaar 0:37
Okay, we’re gonna get into that later. But we’re talking all things business. And we’re talking with, with Barry about, basically your, your business and what it’s about. So just tell us a little bit more about Papi.

Barry Pearson 0:49
So we just started as a bar, not really doing much food. And then we, we realised that we needed to lift our food game to make, like, make more money, really. So we, we stripped it all back, we started looking at takeaway food and the food that we were doing wasn’t going to survive to the house. So then we just started going online to burgers, and it just really took off for us. And we started doing get a lot of good feedback for it. People really liked it. And then we just kept adding to it working on our recipes. And it just kind of took off from there. And then we got shut down from COVID. So we had to close our doors and just do takeaway, so it kind of gave us a chance to really work on it. And yeah, kind of haven’t really looked back since then. We’ve just stuck with it, we’ve simplified everything and there’s stuck to it is really helped us

Trever Molenaar 1:31
and simple menus in food is what really counts. But for those that don’t know you’re you’re in the main or the main strip of therell. Yeah. And why a lot of people do know you is because your social media. You got a different slant on it. Yeah. And also that sign out the front is second best burgers. So tell us how that came about.

Barry Pearson 2:10
Well, before we actually opened we were having a beer at beaches with one of our friends who works at and he pointed out to us. And we’ll we thought who actually who gave them the award of the best burgers in thirroul so it is actually Old South in Thirroul. And so I went on and then all of a sudden we started doing burgers. And we’re like, well, what are we going to ride on out we’re going to become the second best burgers because there’s already a first best burger. So we’re the second best now. And then we just gained a lot of traction from it. Everyone loved it. People were coming on the street and asking where the best burgers are and we would tell them that it was down the road at Old South. And they would ask why we’re why we aspire to be the second best

Trever Molenaar 2:57
In business if you’re always if you’re always second, you’re striving for something anyway. striving for perfection. Yeah, but if you’re the best, then you’re looking backwards to so it’s not a bad place to be.

Barry Pearson 3:07
Yeah, that’s right.

Trever Molenaar 3:08
So tell us about the bar itself. So what is it? We’re talking burgers, but there’s a there’s a big bar element to it. So what’s the the main part of you your business?

Barry Pearson 3:19
It’s probably 50/50 run it like a restaurant? Yep. Everyone’s obviously COVID and stuff. But we tried to have everyone say run it like the rest of the restaurant table service or that kind of stuff. We definitely sell a lot of alcohol. Simple bar menu four cocktails. Lots of beers, which is probably our biggest element of the bar. Always changing our beer list try always trying to see new beers from across the country and everywhere else. us. But yeah, we stripped it back as well. We used to have like eight cocktails only have four now plus classics. But yeah, we do. We do sell a lot of the four cocktails. We sell a lot. We only have one tap. So we just we try and get a different tap in each week. Yeah. But yeah, we run it more like a restaurant and a bar. We just we just find that it works better for us. Yeah.

Trever Molenaar 4:21
So what I’m getting from you is just simplification. Yeah, simplifying everything. Yeah. Not diversifying too much. And keeping it simple is what is the key for your business that you’ve learned over that time? Yeah,

Barry Pearson 4:31
the thing is everyone people in thirroul because we’re in the suburbs, people don’t want to go out and get plastered every night of the week. So we’ve kind of had to find what works for us. And that’s people will go out and eat dinner and drink every night of the week. Or they won’t go out to just drink every night.

Trever Molenaar 4:47
Any target audience?

Barry Pearson 4:49
It’s, it’s huge it’s 18 to 65 we get 65 year olds coming in and drinking and eating burgers on a Saturday night at 10 o’clock. So it’s anyone that wants to spend money.

Trever Molenaar 5:02
So let’s Let’s peel back the layers of your business now. And let’s talk so staff how many stuff you got,

Barry Pearson 5:11
including ash and myself. We’ve got about nine.

Trever Molenaar 5:14
Yeah. And how do you deal with that? Like, is that something that comes natural to you guys handling stuff? Is that something that he’s learned?

Barry Pearson 5:23
Yeah, well, we’ve both been in management positions before, but I guess being employers, it’s something that we’ve had to learn dealing with it like it’s our livelihood on the line. Now. It’s not just someone else’s. So yeah, I guess there’s been a lot of learning along the way. But it does come natural to both of us. And the the main thing for us is treating yourself well paying them the right wage, all that kind of stuff. That’s, that’s what we’d like that’s important to us.

Trever Molenaar 5:58
Yeah, very much. So because your your staff or your face of your business. Yeah,

Barry Pearson 6:03
in the in the six months we’ve been, we’ve had one staff who’s gone on to chase what she does, like, this is what she actually does. at uni. And we’ve held all our other staff, which is I think is quite good

Trever Molenaar 6:16
That’s a testament to you guys as bosses, so they see the face of it, but they don’t also see what happens behind the scenes. So there’s a turnover rate in a business, you get a good why. And as I always always say the fish rots from the head. So if the business owner is a good guy, yeah, you’re good guys. We are going to retain that stuff, too.

Barry Pearson 6:34
And like we wouldn’t be where we were today. Without our staff, Oh, we got great staff who work hard.

Trever Molenaar 6:44
Yeah. And the business is built on staff really, because you cannot do it or you can’t be there all the time. What did you and Ash your business partner to do prior?

Barry Pearson 6:52
I was a chef for 11 years, and actually was a bartender for about same.

Trever Molenaar 6:56
Okay, so that that’s dovetailed into Yeah, you have today. Oh, yeah.

Barry Pearson 6:59
We met working at the hotel in como, and then just always, they work with each other at different places.

Trever Molenaar 7:07
Okay. So from a business point of view, now, who inspires you? Is it other restaurants? Is it? Is it people, you know, isn’t?

Barry Pearson 7:15
For me, it’s not even people that are in this industry. It’s bigger business people. I look at people that are successful in life, property management, stuff like that. Yeah, it’s not even really people that are in this industry that inspire me. Yeah,

Trever Molenaar 7:36
so define success for you.

Barry Pearson 7:40
It’s happiness, I guess. Success isn’t about being swimming in a pool of money. It’s just about being happy.

Trever Molenaar 7:49
It’s funny, every interview that we’ve done, in the Illawarra Business leaders department. No one said money. Yeah. No one. So it. It’s all about the freedom I guess. Yes. Yes. Is freedom. And then happiness, isn’t it? Yeah. So what’s what’s your biggest day to day challenge? You wake up in the morning, what’s what’s some of the things that keep you up at night?

Barry Pearson 8:15
There’s a lot of things that keep me up at night that I probably can’t put through this microphone. Biggest day to day challenge is I guess a lot of people would probably say stuff, but we don’t have that, like our staff are great. Working out where I’m going to get my coffee in the morning. Big challenge.

Trever Molenaar 8:36
Where is it at the moment tell

Barry Pearson 8:37
us, I’ll have to save again, because I live in Oak Flats. I either go Happy Fox in Warilla, or if I’m going to see the boys. So I have two business partners. It’s ash or Andrew. If I’m going to see those guys are go to utopia. Okay. So it’s like, where I’m going to go. And then getting to work on time. That’s probably the hardest thing.

Trever Molenaar 9:06
So starting again, different let’s take it back 16 months ago, yeah, you’ve got all the hindsight of this this past year. What would you do different?

Barry Pearson 9:16
Everything. Like we were so dumb and naive back then. And like, there’s potential that we’re about to do it all over again very soon. And we’ve learned so much and looking back then to what we’re essentially doing now. It’s like, we were red ducks back then.

Trever Molenaar 9:39
But it’s amazing you don’t know what you don’t know. Yeah, that’s right. So you thought you knew it all apparently, but there’s so many trials that you go through and you understand what it’s all about. what some of the things that you stuffed up?

Barry Pearson 9:50
We just trusted the wrong people. We trusted real estate agents. We were just really, I guess naive and just thought, yes, we’re going into business. And it worked out great for us. But we had, like a really tough 16 months, especially in the first six months like bushfires, we we lost a business partner, COVID. But we just put our heads down and worked hard to get on the other side of it. And we came out the other side. Better.

Trever Molenaar 10:26
Yeah. Life brings you roadblocks and you guys keep jumping. And that’s, that’s what business is all about. Yeah. So would that be for people who are listening that are going through some hard times? Or going through that first year of business? What would you say? Would it be getting a business advisor early? Would it be treating cash flow different? How would you guys

Barry Pearson 10:46
Getting a good accountant. Not doing that stuff yourself. Yeah. Not going into business with anyone you don’t know well enough, is very important as well. And during the hard times, you just need to keep working. Yep. Because if you stop you just going to fail. Yeah. If we stopped doing COVID, we would have failed

Trever Molenaar 11:07
100%. Yeah. And I think the people that charge through COVID are the ones that are coming out in the back with with obviously a lot more successful business. Yeah, but it’s funny, you mentioned getting the best accountant and I wholeheartedly agree someone told me a long time ago get the best accountant. You can you can afford. Yeah. And it was probably one of the first things or the first employees that we we had was getting the best bookkeeper we had as well, too. So eliminating that so you can work on the business and not in the business. Ever wanted to give up?

Barry Pearson 11:38
No, I’m, I’m too motivated to to give up on like being a business owner. I wanted to give up cooking many times. But yeah, not being a business owner.

Trever Molenaar 11:51
It’s not for everyone, is it? Now, it’s not your nine to five slog. But it’s it’s all consuming. Isn’t it? A bit of a reward in there, too.

Barry Pearson 12:00
Yeah. Like the freedom that you have been in business owner is great. Yeah. And I’ll probably unless I really had to, would never go back to being working for someone else.

Trever Molenaar 12:09
Yeah. So how is being a business owner allowed you to change your life? personally? Has there been changes in that side of things

Barry Pearson 12:17
dramatically. It’s like the freedom, you know, like, I don’t have to abide by someone else’s hours. Like, I’ve got a six year old daughter. So it’s kind of work around that I can take her to work if I have to. Just little things

Trever Molenaar 12:35
There’s that word freedom again.

Barry Pearson 12:36

Trever Molenaar 12:38
You mentioned what’s next. You sort of touched on that? Yeah. What’s next for you guys?

Barry Pearson 12:44
Were always we’re looking to do something new, it’s just what and where

Trever Molenaar 12:49
the opportunity? Where would you like to be? What would you like to do?

Barry Pearson 12:53
Well, we’ve always spoken about sticking to the suburbs, but we’re going to end up in town in Wollongong.

Trever Molenaar 13:02
Would it be the same name, or would it be something different?

Barry Pearson 13:04
Now remember the same name? It’s just too cheesy, isn’t it? Yeah.

Unknown Speaker 13:09
But it would be the same genre?

Barry Pearson 13:11
Yeah. We something around that. Yeah.

Trever Molenaar 13:15
Prior to starting the business, how much research did you do? Like was there a lot of planning? Was there a business plan? Or was it on the back of a coaster?

Barry Pearson 13:23
It was free? Yeah, it was we we had a few amazing meetings without getting, you know, on a whiteboard and stuff. This one was actually quite a bit of planning. But Ash and I had been like, pretty close to opening a couple of businesses. That just kind of failed. So we’d been planning this for about four years. Not this particular like idea, but we’d been Yeah, gone through the process for about four years. And then, like I said, Before, I just found this spot on Gumtree for good price, and there was nothing in Thirroul and I said to ash, I was like, let’s go look at it.

Trever Molenaar 14:01
Sometimes opportunities just happen for a reason.

Barry Pearson 14:03
I didn’t even know what I was on Gumtree. Yeah. And I’m pretty sure it was early as in the morning.

So and then we went and looked at it, and I don’t think I really liked it, but Ash liked it. But it was a Mexican restaurant, and it looks heaps different to what it does now. Yeah.

Trever Molenaar 14:22
So talk to me about business partners. You mentioned how important it is to have good ones. Yeah. Would you a do it again, without a business partner? Or, or in? What is the trust that you need with business partners?

Barry Pearson 14:34
I wouldn’t do that business partner. I just wouldn’t be out. I know that I wouldn’t be able to handle it. But in this industry, it would just break you, it’s a lot. Having the right business partners. Now, like I work with two of my best mates. Yeah. before when we opened, I opened with ash and someone that I didn’t know that well, who wasn’t in the industry, who wasn’t based in Wollongong. And it was just tough because it was the heart wasn’t complete in it. And

Trever Molenaar 15:09
yes, different workloads, different workloads, different values as well. Yeah, different value sets. What is it that drew you obviously knew ash, but what keeps you guys together?

Barry Pearson 15:19
We can have an argument and call each other every name under the sun. And then five minutes later, we’re best mates. And Andrew, I’ve known Andrew for 15 years as well. So

Trever Molenaar 15:34
someone listening to this right now? Yeah, they’re thinking of going into partnership with someone. They don’t know that well. Yeah. What would you say?

Barry Pearson 15:43
turn to him and call him every name under the sun and see if you’re still friends.

Trever Molenaar 15:46
Exactly. Right. Yeah. Or have an exit plan too.

Barry Pearson 15:50
plan because I tell you, you’re gonna call him. You’re gonna call them real bad names and see, yeah,

Trever Molenaar 15:56
well, it’s a partnership. It’s much like a marriage, isn’t it? You see every day? And if you can’t, if your values don’t align, you’re probably your business not gonna align as well. Yeah.

Barry Pearson 16:05
Yeah. It’s definitely a marriage, and it’s harder to get out of that’s for sure. Yeah.

Trever Molenaar 16:09
So what in in business? What are your strengths? What are your strengths? How does that

Barry Pearson 16:14
work? She’s very good at IT. He’s taken, taken over a lot of the social media, like connecting it all with like, third party programmes and stuff. So it’s real easy to run. I’m more of like operations manager, day to day processes, all that kind of stuff orderings and Andrews actually just come back from Melbourne. He got stuck in Melbourne for a long time with COVID. So he’s kind of he’s a tradie. Coming back to work with us. So he’s, he’s a handyman. Yeah. Okay, so

Trever Molenaar 16:52
he doesn’t really like jobs. Yeah. Talk to me about social. You guys have a How would you describe your social presence? It’s just real raw. It is. Yeah. For those that don’t know, what’s it called?

Barry Pearson 17:03
Probably don’t say ba 2.0 2.0. Yeah,

Trever Molenaar 17:06
that’s right. So yeah, it is raw. Yeah. And who comes up with that content?

Barry Pearson 17:10
It’s just, it’s a mix between both of us. Yeah, we chat. We talk about what we’re like, we have a structure now what we post like, but we talked about what the caption is going to be or what angle we’re taking. Back in the day, like back when it first started. It was like, real sporadic. And now it’s a plan, you know, try, try and go, Okay, we’re gonna post food on a Tuesday or what happened? However, it goes food, drinks. Music, yeah. Special. And then we just come up with whatever the caption is going to be.

Trever Molenaar 17:44
Yeah. It’s funny how many? How many people we’ve interviewed, and some are sporadic. But in the most parts, the social content is one of the highest marketing ideas they had, but it’s certainly also it’s the one of the most planned Yeah, and a lot of them have meetings beforehand. A lot of them. It’s just, it’s down to a fine art, too. So we

Barry Pearson 18:05
actually lost our social media. How about, so I may last year, so that was like in the middle of COVID as well. And we got hacked, everything got hacked, Facebook, Instagram, our bank accounts, everything. They took about $4,000 of money. Yeah, we lost all our socials, and we had to start again. We ended up getting all the money back, but it was, that’s why it’s 2.9. Okay, because we lost everything. Yeah. That was pretty tough. But yeah,

Trever Molenaar 18:36
okay. So there’s there’s obviously a learning curve there. But

Barry Pearson 18:40
yeah, so now we got to factor authentication on everything. Yeah, learning curve for sure.

Trever Molenaar 18:46
So what makes you tick as a business owner?

Barry Pearson 18:49
opportunities, for Sure. Get this feeling? Ashley says it’s my blood boiling. Whenever I like an opportunity comes out. But I just think about non stop. Yeah.

Trever Molenaar 19:01
On the same. Yeah. Look, and I’m probably a bit different where I sort of even hiring employees. Yeah. If it’s not a hell yes. It’s a no, yeah. And that’s what the mantra that I always go down before. I’m not thinking about that everyday. It’s not a bad. It’s not a good business decision. Yeah. It’s got to get you excited. So you guys the same obviously. Yeah. Yeah. How much are you working currently on the business versus in the business? How much do you want to be working on later? Do you still do you still love getting behind the bar or the kitchen? Or is it Yeah, where it will be higher.

So I work in the kitchen. Two days a week. And we hired a chef in August last year che and he probably like one of the best decisions we made. And yeah, so I need to do my Tuesday, Wednesdays in the kitchen. And other than that, I don’t really get behind the bar working on the floor. But it’s kind of we kind of strive to To change the structure of will have employees so we can move on to something different. Because if we’re just working there, we’re never going to be able to open another one. We’re not giving their staff more responsibilities. We’re never going to be able to open anything else. And so you’re sitting on the scale effectively.

Barry Pearson 20:15
Yeah, yeah, we’re giving a younger guys more responsibility. So we can step back, and then go and open something different.

Trever Molenaar 20:26
Have you had any moments? Obviously in a bar? Yeah, there’s things that happened. It gets some crazy sometimes. Yeah. had any oh wow moments.

Barry Pearson 20:36
mean like bad moments. Yeah, it always happens when I’m not there.

Trever Molenaar 20:40
I get some what some good stories. What do we peel back the layer of, of the bars have been some good stories?

Barry Pearson 20:48
Yeah. There’s people always, you know, sleeping with each other in the bathrooms. We always catching them. There’s always like, all the violence, or like, you know, that kind of stuff happens when I’m not there. I always get a call late at night. And Ash is like, this happened. Why does it always happen when I’m not there. But nothing really crazy. Like Yeah,

Trever Molenaar 21:14
just you’re small bar, you look after your patrons.

Barry Pearson 21:17
Yeah, yeah. Everyone, every now and then some get a bit too wild. And there we go. We got to be told to move on. But yeah, nothing. Nothing crazy. Okay, hopefully it stays that way. Yeah.

Trever Molenaar 21:32
So everyone’s gonna ask what what is your favourite burger? Yeah. Got a favourite?

Barry Pearson 21:56
The double cheeseburger is definitely the best burger. Yeah, that you can get their in my opinion anyway. So it’s the best best second best burger. Yeah, the favourite is definitely the bacon cheeseburger. Followed by the broccoli burger.

Trever Molenaar 22:13
Do tell.

Barry Pearson 22:13
Yeah, so it’s just we didn’t have a veggie burger to start with. We had a vegetarian come in. And I was like, Well, I don’t have anything. And so I had to deep fry some broccoli and put it on burgers and toppings that we had and she came in and she was like, That was amazing. Really? Yeah. And it happened again and again. And I was like this go down the menu. Here. Well, yeah. And then we had a lot of trouble at start. A lot of people like what why would you do that? And then it’s just it’s got a cult following now.

Trever Molenaar 22:47
So effectively one of a burger that was built out of what necessity Yeah, has now become almost going to be a cult.

Barry Pearson 22:55
We get meat like meat eaters, like big dudes out of just like I don’t want to get cheeseburger anymore. I want to get the broccoli burger.

Trever Molenaar 23:01
You heard it here first. I think the broccoli burger is gonna have to stay there. Yeah, yeah. So very thank you Barry for talking with us. Yeah. So again, where are you?

Barry Pearson 23:13
We are up in Thirroul at Papi Dulce. Just across from Ryan’s another plug

Trever Molenaar 23:18
Another plug. If you want a burger or beer go to Papi Dulce.

Transcribed by

Coming Up

This season we’ll be hearing from Brendan Down (Resin Brewing), Nic Squires (Illawarra Surf Academy), Greg Flood (Inspect Wollongong), David Love (Sun People), Barry Pearson (Papi Dulce), Aaron Cowie (Seaside Building), and Leon Keir (One Wellbeing).

If you missed the previous season be sure to check out the last episodes showcasing the area’s most talented leaders, entrepreneurs, and business people.

Trever Molenaar
Trever has worked in the industry selling property for over two decades. This lifelong profession has enabled him to master the art of negotiation. Trever’s own personal values relate through to his professional life 
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