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'Nearly 100 pizzas a night': how a coastal Italian restaurant became a slice of foodie heaven

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Tony Kelly has created a range of popular eateries on the Sunshine Coast, but his latest venture has taken off like no other.

Mr Kelly has his own restaurant group in the region, including the likes of Giddy Geisha, Market Bistro, Rice Boi, Spero and Piggyback.

But his restaurant by the sea, Bocca Italian, has caught the attention of locals in particularly quick time.

The Bokarina Beach venue opened in mid-2022 and it has promptly become a favourite destination for foodies.

“It is an exceptional venue,” he said.

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“In all the years that I’ve been in restaurants it’s probably the busiest restaurant from opening date.

“We’re probably 15 months into it, and it hasn’t missed a beat.

“It’s been a weapon.”

Bocca Italian at Bokarina.

Now, Mr Kelly and Bocca Italian are set to capture the attention of the country on lifestyle television program My Way, on Channel 9 and 9Now on Sunday at 5.30pm, in a Sunshine Coast special packed with renowned local chefs, restaurants and coastal charm.

Mr Kelly is director of the restaurant, and co-owner alongside manager Luke Stringer and executive chef Harry Lilai.

He said Italian food was becoming a regular go-to for many Australians.

“Pizza and pasta are a once-a-week staple for a lot of people, and particularly for people who live in the (Kawana and Caloundra) area,” he said.

“We have found a real place in people’s hearts there.

“Whether it’s a Monday lunch or a Saturday night, it’s packed.”

Bocca Italian’s co-owners, manager Luke Stringer, director Tony Kelly and executive chef Harry Lilai.

Mr Kelly said Bocca Italian’s main appeal was its delicious food and drinks at relatively affordable prices.

“I bang on about value for money a lot,” he said.

“It’s not cheap and it’s not expensive, but people get what they pay for and when they walk out they say ‘yep, I can’t wait to come back here’.

“We seem to have found that market well with pizza and fresh pasta.

“And it’s fast.

“Whether you come in straight from the beach or you go there for a dinner date, Bocca Italian sort of appeals to a very broad range of people.”

Hot from the pizza oven.

There’s a pick-up option that has proved a hit.

“Australians are passionate about takeaway pizza,” he said.

“When we put that (option) on our website so people could basically come straight down and pick it up, that was a game-changer for us.

“We started doing nearly 100 pizzas a night just off the back of that, and we hadn’t even really pushed it.”

The most popular food there could come as a surprise.

“Would you believe the No.1 biggest-selling dish at Bocca is the garlic bread, which is fantastic,” he said.

“It’s basically the same pizza dough we use for our pizzas, but we roll out it out and bake it really hard in a super-hot oven, so it puffs up like a pillow and then we drizzle it all with confit garlic oil, and we put some confit garlic on top with rosemary salt.

“We sell so much of that, it’s out of control.

“And then there are our classics like a fairly traditional style Bolognese and a lasagna that is really good.”

Inside Bokka Italian, the first restaurant to open at Bokarina Beach. Picture: Patrick Woods.

Mr Kelly said its menu didn’t change much and its ethos was “ensuring quality service and support and price”.

A chef by trade, he has worked in kitchens at five-star resorts and renowned restaurants, and on a cruise liner.

He delved into the restaurant and wine business and has developed and opened a range of venues across the country. His current portfolio features nine venues on the Sunshine Coast.

“I’d never cooked Asian food in my life before I opened Junk. My business partner (Mitch Smith) at Rice Boi is probably the best Asian cook I have come across,” he said.

“My wheelhouse is modern European cuisine, like classic French, and I feel super comfortable in places like Bocca, Market Bistro and Piggyback because they have ingredients I know so well.”

He said Rice Boi, Market Bistro, Piggyback and Bocca “are going crazy” and his restaurants had “great support from vineyards and distilleries on the Sunshine Coast and from around Australia”.

Tony Kelly sources fresh ingredients.

Mr Kelly said he has “a few things in the pipeline”, including a YouTube channel and a podcast.

“They will focus on food and wine, hospitality and hotels, travel and business,” he said.

“We’ve got some pretty good characters (to appear on them).

“We started filming (for the YouTube channel) late last year and have done some episodes.”

He said he relished the opportunity to appear on My Way.

“I love the show and listening to the stories on it, so once I got asked to go on it I was chuffed,” he said.

This weekend’s show will also feature Josh Donohoe and farm-to-fork experience Creative Tours, Ryan Fitzpatrick and dining venture Venu, and Paul Schenk at Mooloolaba Fisheries.

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