Getting a taste for the restaurant business and avoiding getting burnt

Australian restaurant owner Joel Cox tells us about his work

What brought you to Denmark and how did you end up in the restaurant business?
I never intended to come to Denmark and would never have thought I’d be running a business here. My background is in graphic pre-press. I trained and worked in it for around eight to nine years. I had done some small bar and restaurant jobs part-time as well.

Since having a taste of Europe when I was younger, I always knew I wanted to live over here. I did not want to live in London or a common city that all Aussies were in. So I ended up in Germany to begin with (Weimar), but things did not work out there, so I moved on to where a friend of mine was living and working (Malmö, Sweden). I lived with him for around nine to ten months, but could not really get much work there, and that’s when I took a trip over to Copenhagen to look for some bar work.

I was directed to Reef N’ Beef where at first I was turned away, but when I rang back to check again, a Frenchman called Nico took me in. This is where my interest grew for the industry: I enjoyed everything about it. I was not exactly the best waiter you’d ever seen, dropping wine, glasses, you name it, but it eventually clicked and I just enjoyed it more and more. This was where I also meet Steve, who took over the manager’s role from Nico and we got on really well, so I moved over to Vesterbro in Copenhagen with Steve and a Norwegian guy, Magnus. This is where Café Tight grew from. Nico and Steve, who had a ton of experience between them, brought me in on their idea and Tight was born.

What was the idea behind your Australian restaurant Banksia?
For me the idea has been brewing for some time. Australia and Denmark mix so well these days, so it’s not such a foreign idea to bring in. Though I did not want to create an over-the-top, tacky, typical Aussie joint. I want to bring the true taste of Australia here, and that needs a good splash of Asian flavours. I see a spot in the market, even though there are restaurants and eateries opening left, right and centre.

I had worked with Tim Paine at the very start of Tight for around a year and liked his style and have always got on really well with him. Then from within Tight a couple of my colleagues from the kitchen, Paddy and James, have always shown interest in growing and having something of their own. So when the right property arrived at the right time we sat down and all agreed now was the time. From then on it has been flat out trying to bring everything together.

Are there any particular challenges starting and running a business as a foreigner?
The obvious one is the language! The rules and regulations are not so easy to figure out, but there are also a lot of places that will help you for free. For me it’s the language that has been the hardest and you soon learn to get documents translated properly or you will be burnt and have to learn the hard way!

What are the advantages of starting and running your own business?
For me it has been the freedom and the excitement. It almost becomes addictive. The process of creating and watching a space transform into something that was just an idea in your head is an amazing feeling.

What are the main differences living and working in Denmark compared to Australia?
Denmark is a very, very relaxed country to live and work in. Although for small businesses there is not much incentive to grow. Sometimes you feel like they would rather you just work for a larger company. There is always someone deep, deep in your pockets, so it is very hard to grow the business.

What do you miss about Australia?
Strangers saying hello to you as you pass them, even though you don’t know them. Sailing on the harbour in Sydney during the summertime, and my family, including all the extended family. I am finding it hard not seeing all my cousins grow up and getting to know them.

Do you have any advice for other expats about starting a business here?
Do your research, ask questions and don’t just expect something to work because it doesn’t exist here. Although, if you believe in it enough, don’t be shy, jump in and give it your all. Denmark is a very risk-free country when it comes to opening and closing companies. Find yourself a damn good accountant who knows all the ins and outs of your chosen industry.

What are your favourite things to do in Copenhagen outside of work?
Finding new spots to eat with the family and friends, learning to play some ice hockey (which has been amazing) and wakeboarding down at Copenhagen Cable Park in Amager – a great spot!

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