by MICHELE STERNBERG

A Friday afternoon chat over beers and calamari once a month is the new way to do business networking on the Sunshine Coast.

The Calamari Club started as an idea over a few drinks between two mates. Now 135 like-minded blokes have joined the ranks.

Executive recruiter Dominic Locantio and marketing creative Stu Peace created the club, which steers away from the usual rules and conventions of networking groups that are run by committees and have formal meetings.

“Our first rule: there are no rules,” Dominic says.

“No frills, no committees, no membership, no rules at all … it’s very, very relaxed. If you want to have a beer, you buy your own beer. If you have a bite, you buy your own meal.

“It’s amazing some of the things that come out when you don’t think that person has problems but when you’re all together as blokes … It never happens in the business-referral clubs; it doesn’t happen in the BMIs (business mentoring initiatives). No one ever talks about that, it’s just business, business, business. Whereas this is about sitting back, having a beer and a chat. 

“Next year it’s going to be about having a buddy-up system as well so if you feel someone’s struggling, or you can’t get a job, because we do have the people around us to help.

“One hundred per cent there’s a need for this on the Sunshine Coast.”

Stu said the adage “a problem shared is a problem halved” was so true and he was proud to be involved with a group that provided men the ability to connect with other men in a social environment.

“We’re getting people to talk to each other, it’s great to see,” he says.

“There might be other people there who are going through similar things who might be able to offer some help with certain things, but there’s no pressure there to talk about your problems – it’s a safe environment where you can have a schooner of beer and a plate of calamari and just chat to people.  You just don’t know who you’re going to meet.

“You might meet someone who says ‘I know who can help you with that’ or ‘my cousin did the same thing and this happened, why don’t you try that?’.

“It’s about providing those opportunities to help people help themselves.”

The pair both agree it’s like a Men’s Shed for the working man.

“I just love the vibe of the Coast and I think the Calamari Club suits that vibe because it’s friendly, it’s not too formal and people just like to connect on the Sunny Coast,” Stu says.

“Everyone just seems to like to know what everyone else is up to and help out where they can, and we feel like the Calamari Club has those values to it. 

“It is caring, helping, local and informal; it has a very much Sunny Coast kind of feel and vibe to it.”

The two mates were both relatively new to the Coast – Dominic from Melbourne and Stu from the Isle of Man (via Brisbane) – and faced their own challenges.

“All my life I’ve worked in senior roles and been a big national operations manager,” Dominic says. “My wife had post-natal depression and she said to me, ‘I’ve got to go to work and you can look after the kids.’

“I was like, ‘Seriously? I don’t know what to do.’”

But Dominic quickly settled into the stay-at-home dad role and has watched his daughter grow from three months to five years old.

“I’ve been the stay-at-home dad. I work from home and have started my own business. You need to get out and talk to people,” he says.

Both men had tried different networking groups to meet people.

“One day I was speaking to Stu and having a chat and the idea came up,” Dominic says. “Someone else was there and said he’d come (to something like that). So we said ‘let’s get calamari and a few beers’.”

It seemed such a good idea that they decided to make it a regular thing.

The other element to the group is in its name and its slogan – ‘The Calamari Club: Born and fed on the Sunshine Coast’.

“We go to different small businesses on the Sunshine Coast,” Dominic says.

“We just go to the small, local establishments trying to make a name for themselves, supporting local businesses and then at the end of the year we have a trophy for who has the best calamari.”

Apparently one venue is a stand-out from the 12 or so they’ve visited, but they weren’t prepared to name names before the big award was announced.

People from all walks of life have stepped up to join the club: bankers, lawyers, store managers, brewery owners, restaurant owners, butchers, police, ambos, MPs, councillors, young 20-something entrepreneurs, IT experts, real estate agents, retirees, podiatrists and more.

Stu has started a podcast, plus there’s a Facebook group for anyone who wants to join.

Dominic said the original aim was to get 10 members. At last count, there were 135.

“It’s fun, it’s Friday night, you finish work, you go have a few beers and have a chat,” he says.