Muse is a cafe and bookshop with an active literary program at the bottom of East Hotel in Kingston. Like many hospitality venues around Canberra, they’ve faced staffing challenges over the years.
Paul Eldon, who owns and runs Muse with his husband, Dan Sanderson, decided that one way to overcome these challenges was to learn how to do the job himself.
“People are complaining at the moment about how difficult it is to find staff and they’re not wrong, but it has always been really difficult to get staff in this town,” Paul told Region.
“So what do you do when your chefs call in sick? You need someone to be able to jump in.”
After six years running the front of house, Paul became an apprentice in his own business. He spends one day a week at CIT and the rest of the time working in the kitchen at Muse under the leadership of head chef Stefan Geou.
He’s now two years into the process and says the experience has taught him a lot.
“I’ve got a much better handle on costs and what things are being ordered. On the floor, you only serve a certain number of tables, but in the kitchen, you’re making every dish so you know that you’re going to sell more French toast on a weekend.”
Despite his status as ‘the boss’, when Paul is in the kitchen, he’s just another team member. Chef Stefan is under instruction to treat him like any other apprentice because if Paul’s mistakes aren’t corrected, he won’t be learning and developing his skills to the fullest.
Paul says that choosing to have a better work-life balance allowed him the time to take on this new challenge. After four years of operating breakfast, lunch and dinner six days a week, and breakfast seven days a week, Muse reduced their opening hours and finished their nighttime service. Focussing just on days allowed Paul and Dan to have a break.
“We were burning the candle at both ends … I was simply too tired to do anything, but now I’ve got the time to focus on other things.”
Once the apprenticeship is over, he’ll likely split his time between the kitchen and front-of-house duties in the restaurant. Despite enjoying his time in the kitchen, Paul says he misses being on the floor and engaging with customers face-to-face. But he’ll always be on call to jump back into the kitchen when needed.
While Paul described himself as a competent home cook previously, he says the apprenticeship has also given him much more confidence to cook without recipes and improvise dishes for himself and Dan at home.
He recommends the learning experience to other business owners who want hands-on skills and a better understanding of how their restaurant or cafe is running.
“You need to be able to step in if something goes wrong because, at the end of the day, it’s your business.”
Muse is located on the ground floor of East Hotel, 69 Canberra Ave, Griffith. They are open every day of the year from 7 am. On Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, they close at midday and all other days they close at 2 pm. Follow Muse on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Visit their website for their program of literary events.