20 Minutes with Nomad Restaurant Co-Owner Rebecca Yazbek

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The birth of a Sydney treasure.

20 Minutes with Nomad Restaurant Co-Owner Rebecca Yazbek

When Rebecca Yazbek, an interior architect freelancing in a large firm, met her restaurateur then-boyfriend (Al Yazbek, formerly of Toko), the seeds of Sydney restaurant NOMAD were sown, though neither knew it at the time. Rebecca’s idea of opening a local produce-led venue within a welcome yet chic inner city space seemed perfectly doable to Al, and he urged her to go for it. While Rebecca brought her creative eye, Al took the reins of operations. Which is to say, while she felt very much at home during construction, witnessing the restaurant’s soft launch in October 2013 was a different story. “I just remember saying to Al, ‘Now I have no idea what I’m doing.'” Suddenly, the site now completed, she saw her concept bustling with diners and a menu come hurtling to life.

The Surry Hills site selected for NOMAD is an early 20th century building (most recently a design showroom) – and this has dictated the stylistic elements of its present incarnation. Picture solid ironwood columns, a roomy look-in kitchen, exposed brick, timber furniture and an American oak bar. Waitstaff speak at length of where the pork’s from, how the charcuterie is house-cured, why the wood-roasted trout flakes just so. The wine list, curated by sommelier Samantha Payne is all-Australian, and produce is sourced as local as possible by head chef Jacqui Challinor. Ergo, it’s one of Sydney’s most popular dining venues.

We caught up with Rebecca for a closer look at how the restaurant took hold.

I was in architecture at the beginning. I was sort of trying to find my place in that field. I was jumping around a little bit and travelling and trying to find my niche, but all it kept doing was leading me to restaurants, I guess. When I started dating a restaurateur [Al Yazbek, now husband], my friends were immediately like, “Of course you’re dating a restaurateur. It figures.”

Al and I weren’t planning on working together at all. I was obviously in a romantic relationship and sort of talking about my ideas out loud. He, having this expertise that he did in running restaurants already, he’s like, “Why don’t you just do it yourself? You keep talking about it and I’m sick of hearing about it.” The idea for NOMAD came up and he really liked it as a concept, and then I sort of fleshed it out … it was a couple of years before we opened.

It took us forever to find the site and then the site did really dictate the look and feel of the space. I was just in my element. I hadn’t been my own client before, so it was a big learning curve, spending your own money and not really pushing a client into a certain direction because it was the right feel for the design. Whereas, when you’re your own client, you sort of get to see it from both perspectives.

Nomad co-owner Rebecca Yazbek

Nomad co-owner Rebecca Yazbek

I’m in a very fortunate position in that I get to work with food and design, food and wine, but I also still get that creativity outlet by choosing the plate ware and going through the design process of the restaurant. It’s amazing for an interior architect, for sure.

When we were opening, I didn’t have the skill fit to run a restaurant, that was my husband. I remember driving to the soft opening, up until that point I was in my element. I was in the building stage, I was directing carpenters and plumbers and dealing with plans. Then I was driving in from home to see NOMAD with customers and staff and foods and systems that run a restaurant, and I just remember saying to Al, my husband, “Now I have no idea of what I’m doing.”

With my staff, I want to make sure that because I don’t cook, I don’t serve people, they are not skill sets that I have, I have the utmost respect for my staff. It’s making sure that they feel supported in everything they do. And that’s where the skills that I learned working in big corporate businesses is that you do need to care about your people. They are the ones that service customers. They’re the ones that cook your food, if you don’t have happy staff, you don’t have much of a business.

I don’t hire any staff because they’re female or male, that’s for sure. I hire the best, but what I do, which might be a little bit different, I know, is that I do look at personal attributes first and foremost. When I work with them, whether they’ve got the leadership skills that I’m after. You can make the best soup in the world, but you’re not gonna be a good head chef if you don’t know how to inspire a team, lead a team and get them to believe in what you’re doing.

Nomad recently launched Nomad Wine Club. As a member, choose from two packages – the Admirer, or the Enthusiast – and receive the restaurant’s most loved and seasonal Australian wines every month. Nomad is offering Collective Hub readers 20% off. Use the code COLLECTIVE20 at checkout. Valid until September 30.