Once upon a time, Andrew Sharkawi was just another podiatry student with a killer sweet tooth.
Along with his friend George Iskander, a pharmacist, Andrew was a die-hard dessert fan. The medical duo became the connoisseurs of where to find the best after dinner treats in Sydney, frequenting every cafe and restaurant they could find. In the end, they realised their sweet tooth was actually leading them somewhere more exciting than finding the best Nutella crepe in town...it was to become their career.
Two years later, Andrew and George are the joint owners and managers of one of Sydney's favourite dessert haunts, 'Dezerts', a two-level homage to all things chocolate coated with a cherry on top.
Dezerts is located in Sydney's beachside suburb of Brighton Le Sands, and is a local favourite. They offer hearty breakfasts, burgers, coffees, smoothies, and of course, a dessert menu that will have you drooling.
"George and I were constantly going out for desserts - mid week, weekends, everything!" explains Andrew. "Eventually we were like - why don't we open our own dessert shop?"
It was a massive career change for Andrew and George, but together, they combined contacts, business ideas, and their shared passion for chocolate, to get Dezerts off the ground. So how exactly did they make the leap from diagnosing foot disorders, to designing desserts?
"I'm pretty passionate about business, so is George," says Andrew. "And so basically, we said 'let's just do it now'. We can recover ourselves should anything go wrong whilst we're younger...so we took our idea and just ran with it."
But little did they know they would be up and running as quickly as they were.
"We found a location, but they weren't selling - so we made an offer, and they accepted. It all went really fast," remembers Andrew, "we had three weeks from purchase to open our doors."
At just 25-years-old, Andrew and George were quite young to take on the challenge of opening a small business, especially since neither of them came from hospitality backgrounds. But they used their 'fresh set of eyes' to their advantage, working hard to create a venue and a menu that would attract both a younger crowd and a family audience.
"There are teenagers and young adults who are always out [in Brighton Le Sands] during the weekend and also during the week who aren't just wanting dessert, but coffees, or a nice lunch," explains Andrew. "We target families as well, with young kids - we made sure we had pram access, and a function room upstairs to cater for everyone."
Their menu and their demographic was under control, but for these first time foodies, the setup was a little less straightforward. After releasing a rather aspirational food menu after a tastings session a few weeks out, Dezerts had a 15,000 strong following on Facebook - before they had even opened the doors! The pressure was on to live up to the hype.
"In the area of newly established business, a lot of people would bring up Silver Chef," says Andrew. "It was like - go to Silver Chef, go to Silver Chef, go to Silver Chef. So we called up, figured out we could get everything brand new and in one lump sum, so we signed up straight away."
The biggest drawcard for Andrew was being able to manage their cash flow. "Obviously, cash flow is essential in starting new business," he says, "so having a payment that is minimal, as opposed to a lump sum cash flow that would destroy you in an emergency, was critical to us."
With their kitchen sorted, 35 staff hired, and their Facebook following ballooning to more than 240,000 fans (wow!); Dezerts had one thing left to perfect: their desserts.
"These days, everyone eats with their eyes. So we cater for their eyes!" says Andrew. "We make it look so appealing: if it's meant to be small, we double it or triple it - and suddenly, people are like 'Aw, we gotta have this!'"
The Dezerts menu takes full advantage of the huge dessert trend sweeping the world at the moment - namely, supersized milkshakes, giant pancakes with homemade ice-cream, and golden waffles that are quite literally drenched in Nutella and chocolate. The bigger, the better.
Their aesthetically-enticing desserts have won them a huge online following with whom they interact with on a daily basis. Whilst Andrew and George usually work from a remote office, popping in daily to check on their staff, they always make time to get onto the Dezerts Facebook page and have a chat with some of their customers.
But when it comes to imparting the greatest piece of wisdom he has learnt after two years in the hospitality trade, Andrew's focus isn't on his customers, or even the desserts he's serving them: it's his staff.
"Look after your staff, and they'll look after your business," says Andrew.
"They say, 'look after your customers', but if your staff are happy, they'll look after your customers for you. If you don't look after your staff, they will compromise your customer's happiness, and in time, they will affect your business."
Wise words from another great young Aussie entrepreneur paving the way in the new world of modern hospitality. And proof to all of us, that our relentless sweet tooth can offer us far more than just a hefty dentist bill - it can create a whole career!
02 9567 7402
373 Bay Street, Brighton-Le-Sands NSW 2216