Michael Rantissi is chef and owner of Kepos Street Kitchen, Kepos & Co and Kepos Catering – thriving Sydney-based Middle Eastern eateries he runs with his wife Kristy. From his beginnings as a kitchen-hand in Israel to now being the force behind award-winning cuisine and two successful cookbooks, he’s passionate about creating family-run businesses that have a community feel.
6AM // My morning ritual starts with the alarm going off and then I have a few more alarms that buzz every three minutes. By 6.15 I’ve had enough of the alarms so I get out of bed and start the day. I’ve turned into a morning person rather than a night person because of this job and the early starts. I know it’s not good for me but I eat a bowl of cereal with banana whilst walking to my car – given the early start I now try and get ready very quickly in the morning to maximise my time in bed!
6.45AM // We only live a few minutes away so I’m normally at work around this time every morning. We opened Kepos Street Kitchen in 2012 and it really is a story about being in the right place at the right time. We had popped to the shops and we saw a building that caught our attention – we said if the site ever came up for lease it would be the perfect place to open a cafe. We went into a store and when we came back out there was a ‘For Lease’ sign on the window. It was total serendipity – we called the real estate agent and the rest, as they say, is history.
7.30AM // We open up for the day and this is when our rush hour starts, with people on their way to work. We’ve had a lot of regular customers from day one – they all come from various age groups and demographics, but they’re our community and our core business. They’re also our ‘eyes’ – they’ll tell you what you’re doing right and wrong, even when you might not want to hear it! I’ve been a chef for over 20 years, and I try to change the menu seasonally. I started my career in Israel as a kitchen-hand – I wanted to buy a particular pair of trainers and my Dad said if I wanted them I had to go out and buy them myself. So I got a job as a kitchen-hand at a local restaurant, and I’ve been hooked on kitchen life ever since.
8.30AM // This is when we get people coming in for breakfast who have a bit more time on their hands. A few years ago we were included in a British website’s round-up of the world’s best breakfasts, and only found out about it from a lovely Danish customer who was visiting Sydney and wanted to come in and try our breakfast. She loved it so much she came back for dinner the next night!
9.30AM // The quiet lull starts around now, so I might come home and do some admin work with Kristy, who does all our bookkeeping. Overall it’s great to work together, though I’d be lying if I said it didn’t come with any challenges! At the moment Kristy works from home so it can be difficult to separate work and home life, but we both have a different skill set, which is great, and our work complements each other’s.
12.15PM // This is when the lunchtime rush hits. People love our salads, and if I’m eating at the restaurant I like to have a chopped salad with tomato, cucumber and avocado with chicken schnitzel. It feels like a healthy dish with the salad ingredients but it’s maybe not so healthy when you add the fried chicken! We have dishes that’ve been on the menu since opening, and I think there’d be a public outcry if we took them off. The falafels, hummus and churros will always make the cut.
2.30PM // Things start to quieten down. We get enormous support from our locals, and since starting the business we’ve tried to give back to the community by donating food to Ozharvest and Two Good. It’s important to think sustainably across the business – we’ve phased out plastic straws and we sell reusable coffee cups because we want to make sure that we leave a planet, rather than a legacy.
3PM // We close now and I tend to head home and have a break for a couple of hours before heading back to work for the dinner service. I think working in hospitality means it’s crucial you love food, and even more so that you’re a people person. Our regular customers like that staff know their coffee order, how they like their eggs and all those little details. When customers walk in the door I firmly believe they should always be greeted with a warm smile and hello – we want everyone to feel welcome when they come into the cafe.