Operator Profile: Martin O’Sullivan & the Grasshopper team

The Grasshopper team - Marty, Belinda and John

Marty is the self confessed ‘face’ of Sydney small bar Grasshopper, an award winning tippling venture in the heart of the CBD. It’s headed by himself, John Toubia and Belinda Lai and is a leading light in the changing dynamic of Sydney’s night time culture.

The Grasshopper team is heavily involved with the arts community, hosts laneways dinners and showcases how a collaborative and co-operative bar industry can make Sydney an even better place. Marty and John both took some time out recently to chat about running a bar business in Sydney.

What’s the attraction of the bar business for you?


J “Apart from the unsociable hours and the backbreaking work it’s the customers that keep me in the business – if you don’t like people this is not the business for you.”

How did you get involved in the bar industry?

M “I got involved in the bar industry as I was unhappy in the corporate world.  I was in IT which is a very unsociable industry.”

Tell me a little about your business – who’s involved?

M “There’s John Toubia who is the man behind our bar Grasshoppers “Cocktail Mechanic”, there’s Belinda Lai who runs the whole business and oversees everything “Aka The Grasshopper” we do as a group.  Finally there’s me, I’m the ‘face’ of our business and the PR machine.”

Any future plans that you can let us know about?

J “We’re expanding our business with events and key sponsorships.  If the opportunity arises to do something as interesting and enjoyable as Grasshopper we will definitely take a look.”

What are your Top 5 tips for running a successful bar business?

  1. Be realistic.
  2. Learn to plan everything.
  3. Roll up your sleeves.
  4. Take time out for yourself.
  5. Make sure you enjoy the industry, even the worst parts.

How have you evolved as a business operator over the years?

M “I’ve stayed true to the beliefs that I first went into business.  I’ve learnt that you can’t do everything yourself and to surround yourself with the best in the business.  I’ve also mellowed a lot; I’m still always trying to do a million things at once but with more realistic timeframes.  There is also no such thing as too much planning and no such thing as everything going to plan; hospitality is such a crazy profession.”

What mistakes taught you the biggest lessons?

M “Trust and knowledge. I put a lot of trust in those that I shouldn’t have and didn’t have knowledge of things I should have.  I paid a big price both money wise and time wise, it set my long-term goals back quite significantly.”

How do you continually develop your creative ideas?

M “I try to enjoy life. If I’m enjoying what I do the creative ideas flow very easily. I’m a very visual person, I look at everything.”

How important are staff in operating a successful business?

J “Staff are the key to success especially in hospitality. Our staff are a close knit crew and we all spend a lot of time together.  If they aren’t happy, then our customers usually aren’t going to be happy.  How you feel reflects directly on the drinks and food you make them, the service you give them. Our staff are all versed in what we wish to convey through our business, ‘our philosophy’ as some would term it.  They have input in all aspects of our menus, our service and how we do our business.”

Where do you draw your inspiration from for food and drink?

M “I’m usually hanging out with my partners doing some day-to-day things when I come up with something inspirational. On top of that it’s usually something totally unrelated to food and drink that will inspire me.”

What excites you about the Sydney bar industry?

M “At the moment…everything.  There is such a ground swell and so much happening with new small bars opening up all the time that it’s hard not to be excited. It’s amazing how much has been achieved by our Sydney bar scene in the past two years. I think the next big thing will be competition for barrel flaring of aged cocktails.”

Do you have any concerns about the future of the Sydney bar industry?

J “Always, but these are good concerns.  I see the future of our industry as very bright, especially for small bars.  I think as we gain momentum and small bars proliferate we’ll come under more pressure from other industry groups.”

What’s the best thing about owning your own bar?

J “Just knowing that every day when I wake up I’m doing something I love.”

Are there any local or international bar operators that you admire? If so why?

M “Lenny Opai the most underrated Bar Manager in Sydney. He was and will always be the heart of the old Bayz’ (Bayswater Brasserie) for me.  And anyone who has the vision and guts to go out and do it for themselves with their own money not daddies!”

What advice would you give young bartenders who want to open their own bar one day?

J “Start at the bottom and work your way up.  When you get close to the top, think about what you want. If you want good money, no stress and a secure job… think twice.”

Tell us a bit about the NSW Small Bar Association

“NSW Small Bar Association aims to bring together small bar owners and give them a voice,” O’Sullivan says. “As we’re all involved in our own small businesses it’s sometimes hard for us to be heard as individuals with the lawmakers of our land.  Having an association allows us to have presence alongside such established groups as the AHA and the RCA.  It also allows such groups that want to have a dialogue with us, such as Sydney City Council or OLGR, a central starting point with which to communicate.”

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