Revolutionising the restaurant game

Calia’s retail store at Emporium Melbourne. Picture: Laura Placella

By Laura Placella

A cutting-edge restaurant merging gourmet dining with grocery shopping has found a home at Emporium Melbourne.

Marketing themselves as a restaurant-to-retail concept, Calia provides a unique dining experience that has never been seen before in Melbourne.

The brainchild of Michelin-starred chef, Francisco Araya, the Japanese-inspired restaurant opened its doors to the public on February 12.

The concept, also known as a grocerant, allows customers to both dine in the restaurant and purchase ingredients to cook with, from the adjourning store.

Calia’s owner Jason Chang said Calia curated “the best sustainable and ethically sourced ingredients” to both feature in its dishes and on its shelves.

Most of Calia’s fish is line caught in the early hours of the morning, on the same day it is to be served and packaged.

“Our team has gone out to the wineries, the oceans, the beef farms, Italy, Spain – to really source everything you see,” said Mr Chang.

“We’re trying to give our consumers access to the most premium ingredients in the world.”

Mr Chang said 10,000 people had dined at Calia since its opening, with 33 per cent returning for a second time and 60-70 per cent buying an item from the retail store.

Calia is set to expand over the next two-to-three years, with more stores to launch in Melbourne and across Australia.

Executive operations manager Kelly Loy said social media played a strong role in cultivating their success.

Calia promotes the Michelin-starred masterclasses and degustation dinners it hosts on its Facebook and Instagram pages.

Food blogger Louise Li, who runs the Instagram page melbourne_glutton, said social media to any hospitality business nowadays was a huge marketing tool.

Ms Li said just like any other grocerant, Calia was about “buying what you eat”.

She has dined at Calia and bought condiments from their retail store, specifically having tried their whole honey range.

“I’ve got three different bottles of honey. There’s the truffle honey, the wild flower honey and the leatherwood honey,” said Ms Li.

“You just wouldn’t come across Calia’s products in a traditional retail store. They’ve been very innovative in that way.”

Grocerants have grown in popularity over recent years.

One of the most famous international grocerants, Eataly, now has 34 stores worldwide since first opening in Italy, 10 years ago.

Calia plans to incorporate informational displays and brochures in their store soon, embodying Eataly’s “eat, shop, learn” philosophy.

Monash University nutrition and dietetics expert Dr Claire Palermo said cost was still a “key determinant” when choosing where and what to eat.

“The grocerant trend seems to be accessible only to those on higher incomes,” said Dr Palermo.