December Cover – James Nouri, Restaurateur

[For the love of business and the Central Coast]

James Nouri has had confidence in Gosford and the greater Central Coast for far longer than the cranes have been visible in the sky. The second-generation restaurateur, owner/founder of Jimmy G’s cafes and co-owner of a growing number of other local hospitality venues has achieved an extraordinary level of business success since opening his first café in Mann Street Gosford in 2001. But this success hasn’t come overnight, nor has it come easily or been the result of a solo effort. This story shows how entrepreneurial spirit and a genuine love of business combined with strategic partnerships, a desire to learn and the courage to take risks are all key ingredients to James’ growth story.
For as long as he can remember, James has been involved in hospitality. By the age of five he was serving garlic bread and making tips in his parents’ Italian restaurant. He opened his first café, Central Espresso in Mann Street Gosford, at the age of eighteen. For the first four years he worked sixty hours a week for a personal income of $250. Just when the business started turning a corner, James’ landlord sold the building and he lost the cafe. It was the first of many lessons learned – this one, to strategically execute your option on the lease. It was a mistake he would never make again.

Moving to Sydney to work and experience Sydney’s vibrant dining and entertainment precincts, James returned to the Central Coast in 2009 with renewed passion and a mission to help invigorate the local dining scene. He re-launched Central Espresso in Carbow Arcade, opened Byblos Lebanese restaurant in Kibble Park in 2011 and rebranded the café to Jimmy G’s in 2012. His decision to invest in Gosford showed faith in the future of the city when few others seemed to share that faith. James says, “I have always believed in Gosford. Too many business owners blamed Erina Fair for their failure when the truth was, they were blaming external factors when they should have been looking internally.”
Over the following years James expanded the Jimmy G’s brand, opening cafes at Riverside Park, William Street Gosford and in the Mariners Centre of Excellence at Tuggerah. Keen to focus on the Jimmy G’s brand, James sold Byblos in 2014. It was during this period of growth that James started working with Tara Dickinson, who he originally employed as a café manager. They quickly discovered shared values, work ethics and a desire to change things up on the Central Coast. James and Tara’s first joint venture was Tommy’s on the waterfront at Gosford, which opened in 2014.
Today there are eight businesses across the portfolio – five Jimmy G’s, owned by James, and three venues he co-owns with Tara – Tommy’s, Pinocchio’s at Gosford and the latest addition, Motel Mezza at Wyong. Together they are creating experiences that cater to a variety of target markets. While Jimmy G’s caters to the corporate market, Tommy’s has a more relaxed coastal vibe. Pinocchio’s offers an extensive wine list including the largest wine by the glass offering (more than sixty) on the Central Coast and Motel Mezza, which opened in October, specialises in Middle Eastern cuisine and oozes chic art deco style in the 1938 heritage-listed building it occupies (the original Bank of Wyong). Both restaurants are already attracting visitors from as far away as Sydney and Newcastle.