Stories from across the Asia Pacific

The courage to make mistakes


Living Proof speaks to Dushan Zarić, an owner and co-founder of Employees Only, one of the most recognisable hospitality brands in the world, to discover why service is king.

Comments Print article

To date, Employees Only has operated bars in Los Angeles, New York, Singapore, Sydney, Hong Kong and Miami.

Dushan himself arrived in the US from Yugoslavia when he was in his 20s. He had nothing but a “useless degree” and $2,000, but quickly went from working the door at a strip club to making cocktails under the tutelage of Dale DeGroff. Then, it was a loophole in the law that banned smoking in bars that saw him and co-founders Henry Lefarge, Igor Hadzismajlovic, Jason Kosmas, and Bill Gilroy devise the concept for Employees Only.


Dushan’s an advocate for working your way up within an organisation, and helping people realise that it’s a privilege to be of service to others. It’s this ethos and support that has seen Employees Only become such a rewarding place to work that staff members very rarely leave.

“At Employees Only, when you’re hired you’re encouraged to make mistakes,” Dushan says.

“We want you to make mistakes … [otherwise] there is no chance for you to build confidence and feel like you have support. I encourage everybody to take responsibility and run with it. If you make a mistake – so what? .. so long as we are courageous enough to stand there, take responsibility, learn what we can and move on, feeling like we have support.

Dushan says it took him a long time to realise that it’s a real privilege to be of service to people.

“I was a really ego-driven maniac rockstar kid … it took a long time for me to understand why service is such an avenue for growth and personal happiness and contentment.”

Dushan also knows that it isn’t the product that gets people to come back, it’s the vibe of the place.

“Anybody can make a good burger or a good cocktail. That will not differentiate you from anybody else. What will differentiate you is how people feel – I emphasise feel because most of them are not even aware why they prefer a certain place. … when you distill it down, it’s basically because you feel comfortable in a place and you’re not rejected.”

“I’ve had plenty of people who’ve worked with me whose attention was on developing a different career – some art or becoming something else. And that’s fine. But when you find yourself in a situation to be serving others, I think it’s important to ask oneself: ‘How curious that in my life, at this time, I’ve been given this opportunity to actually be of service. This is not just a job that provides me with some money. It is an opportunity for me to learn something about myself.”

More Business stories