Persistence and resilience – without these two attributes, very few people will succeed in business. Ramzey Choker, co-founder of The Grounds of Alexandria, shares his experience of battling bankruptcy and the rollercoaster ride of business ownership that has led him to his current success.
Built on a site that was formerly a concrete carpark, The Grounds of Alexandria is the epitome of urban renewal – taking a run-down premises and transforming it into something modern, productive and accessible to the wider community.
The sprawling 6,000-square-metre site is home to a café, coffee roaster, artisan bakery and permaculture garden, as well as weekend markets. The garden provides a welcome backdrop for visitors, hosts education programs and is the source of much of the fresh produce used in the café.
Having launched just four years ago, The Grounds of Alexandria now employs close to 300 staff.
Yet it is also something of a metaphor for the life of its co-founder Ramzey Choker.
Learning from the past
“I went through a massive bankruptcy with my father... so that left a lot of impacts and beliefs in my system that everything is too hard: ‘Am I going to make myself go bankrupt [again]?’,” Ramzey tells My Business.
“I’ve had around seven or eight businesses before – some successful, some not successful. It’s all been around food service, from wholesale to distribution to restaurants to cafés ... so all in the food realm, pretty much from beginning to end of the food supply chain.”
This diverse experience, Ramzey says, has not only enabled him to perfect his service offering and the back-of-house operation of his business, but has also given him the drive to find something he truly believes in and is passionate about.
“After you go bankrupt, everyone moves away from you. It’s only your own mind [that determines success or failure], so you [need to] do something that is really inspirational – that you truly love.”
This inspiration and passion led Ramzey to co-found The Grounds of Alexandria with business partner Jack Hanna. The concept was not just to be another food-service business, but to offer a unique and contemporary community experience.
“It just came from experience and wanting to change convention – not doing things the way everyone else was doing,” Ramzey states.
“I just want to push boundaries. I’m not interested in doing things that people have done.”
It is clear the decision to take the gamble on this concept has paid off for the duo.
“From the day it opened, people just kept coming because it was something so unique, something so different.
No one has done it before.
“It kept growing and kept growing the more we pushed, the more we variated, the more we inspired people to do what they really want to do. The business is just phenomenal, it just doesn’t stop. It will stop when the creativity and the innovation basically stops.”
Ramzey adds: “I don’t look at myself [as being] in the food business – the food is just a part of what we do. It’s about creating a real amazing experience ... there’s a whole element of design and architecture around every touch point throughout the food business”.
Looking to the future
As well as continually seeking to perfect and expand the customer experience at The Grounds of Alexandria, Ramzey is taking a holistic approach to developing both his business and his staff for a sustainable future.
“We’ve got another business called Flower Child. It’s where we pipeline young entrepreneurs,” he explains.
“My father … gave me opportunity, and for me I want to give that back. I see a lot of amazing people in my business that not only are good chefs [and] cooks; there’s creative people, there’s designers, there’s all these types of people, and it all comes back to doing business and that entrepreneurial skill.”
The Flower Child business runs smaller cafés in shopping centres, which Ramzey operates as a joint venture with young staffers who want to develop a business of their own.
“We pipeline our people: young workers who want to go off and do their own thing, we partner up with them and do a joint venture with them so that they [can] own their own café and their own business,” he says.
“[We grow] with them, so it’s just a win-win situation. And they are more inspired, you see them more engaged – they want to show you more, they want to show you they can be great, and all we’re doing is providing a platform for them to be able to do that.”
“We pipeline our people: young workers who want to go off and do their own thing, we partner up with them and do a joint venture with them.”
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.