How selling bikes in the trading post helped this Brisbane entrepreneur to build a hospitality powerhouse

Entrepreneurship is all the rage at the moment with heaps of great local success stories, including our very own ambassador Tim Johnson, who at just 36 runs two of Brisbane and the Gold Coast’s best restaurant chains (in our opinion).

Last year named one of Brisbane’s most influential entrepreneurs by Business News Australia, we took the opportunity to pick Tim’s brain on the secret to his success, which really comes down to putting in the hard yards.


How did your career start out? 

I began working at McDonald’s when I was 13 and worked my way up. By the age of 25, I was responsible for 35 McDonald’s across the Northern Territory, Queensland and New South Wales. I then opened the Vapiano group of restaurants in Australia, before moving to Melbourne as the State Manager for Grill’d in Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory. From there I worked as the State Manager for YUM! with 90 Pizza Hut locations across South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania and then the General Manager for the FONDA group of restaurants. I then moved home to Brisbane and made the big leap into business for myself, opening six of my own locations with Corbett & Claudeand Comuna Cantina.


You’ve really worked your way up in the hospitality industry – what do you love about it?  

I love the constant challenge of learning something completely new each day in so many varied industries. I also love working with an amazing team and the interaction with so many new guests every day. Every day is a new day and there is always something to learn and be better at!

Did you always have an interest in business?  

Yes. I can remember my first little business was when I was around nine. I used to buy bikes from around the local area, do them up and then sell them through the trading post to make a profit.

What inspired you to establish your own restaurants?  

I have always loved hospitality and I really wanted to be able to have full creative control with the concept and full accountability. I also wanted the opportunity to create the culture I had always wanted.


How daunting was it when you first opened your doors?  

Extremely and it remained daunting for at least the first three years! Going from an employee to a business owner is an extremely eye-opening experience. No matter how prepared I was, I had no idea how much I didn’t know!

When did you know you were on to a winner?  

That’s really hard to say – we have won some really great awards and we get such amazing feedback from our guests, however I still feel we have such a long way to go to say we are a winner. We’re always reviewing our performance and pushing ourselves to be better.

Why did you decide to expand by opening Comuna Cantina?  

I had always wanted to cover the three main categories I had worked within, so, pizza, Latin, and burgers. We have pizza and Latin and we might soon have covered all three. I also love the Latin vibes – so upbeat and positive!
What have been your biggest challenges since going into business for yourself? Managing my time and knowing how to best balance working on versus in the business; and also, all the challenges of business and personal life.

What have you loved most?  

The excitement of having an idea and turning it into something that people love. It blows me away when I see the venue full of people. The thought that, out of all of the restaurants they could go to, they have chosen to come to mine, it’s extremely humbling and makes me want to make sure they have the best time possible.


What advice do you have for others looking to go down a similar career path to you?  

Find a mentor who has done it before – learn from them what to do and not to do, before taking the plunge. And also – just do it! There will never be the perfect time.