PROFILED BY Savithri Rodrigo
His dad thought he looked like the legendary Marx brother and nicknamed him ‘Harpo.’ And his actual name – Lalith – is never used… except by his bank. Harpo Gooneratne is that celebrity everyone wants to know or be introduced to.
A restaurateur who is known to be omnipresent, he can be spotted at The Bayleaf one minute, Curve bar and Park Street Mews the next, chatting with customers at Harpo’s Colombo Fort Cafe, conversing with his team at Harpo’s Pizza & Pasta Parlour and sharing a few words with the chef who’s manning the Commons roti cart. He’s also been seen inspiring young trainees at Harpo’s Hotel School.
The man doesn’t get tired – and apart from his mop of white hair, he seems ageless!
Some 40 years ago, Harpo spun vinyls, and played the best mixes that teenagers and adults bopped to. Since the entertainment bug was coursing strongly through his veins and figuring that hotel school would be a good bet to feed the DJ hunger, Harpo spent some adventurous years at Claremont Hotel School.
The combination of music and people – which was to result in his signature line ‘Pizza, Pasta, Music’ – soon became an addiction. This meant that work for Harpo was fun.
As music presenter at The Library – which was at that time an exclusive members only club at the Ramada Renaissance – Business Development Manager at the Hilton Colombo and Club Service Manager at the World Trade Center, Harpo’s mandate was to put his passion for people, music and entertainment to good use.
Married for over three decades to the gorgeous Cheryl (an accomplished businesswoman herself), Harpo’s most memorable moment was walking his daughter Asherah down the aisle a couple of years ago.
Though he is extremely industrious, it’s a trait that few would see since Harpo has the most amount of joy watching people enjoying the fruits of his labour.
“I discussed my plans for a brand launch with my advertising agency and they came up with ‘Harpo’s’ as the brand name”
30 May 1961
S. Thomas’ College
ALWAYS WANTED TO BE
“I’m happy the way I am.”
Sir Richard Branson
The late Gamini Fernando (former General Manager of Hilton Colombo) – “For his work ethic, positive attitude, vision and guidance.”
Gabo Peiris – “For being the godfather of my DJ career.”
His dad – “For his love, friendship and guidance.”
Q: What was your first restaurant
A: Commons Coffee House. The previous owners offered it to me and I took it on in 2004.
Q: And what pushed you into expanding your footprint?
A: My experience with The Commons, which was offered to me by a friend, encouraged me take on The Bayleaf that same year. I renamed it, launched it anew and the rest is history.
Q: Why the name ‘Harpo’s Pizza’?
A: After launching The Bayleaf, which is an Italian restaurant, I was inspired by a pizza oven I found down south. I discussed my plans for a brand launch with my advertising agency and they came up with ‘Harpo’s’ as the brand name.
Q: What inspired the roti cart?
A: Seeing the roti cart going down Horton Place, I thought of launching my own cart concept at The Commons.
Q: Tell us about your mostinspiring project…
A: Launching Harpo’s Pizza with my name for the brand. It’s a brand I can expand, and I’ve launched Harpo’s Pizza & Pasta retail range, Harpo’s Frozen Pizza and Harpo’s Pizza Truck.
Q: Which of your venues do you have a soft spot for?
A: I have a soft spot for The Bayleaf – I love the fact that it’s in a colonial mansion that’s over a century old.
Q: If you hadn’t become a restaurateur, what wouldyou have been?
A: This is it!
Q: Do you work out or have a special diet?
A: I work out regularly – either in the gym or walking – and I’m careful with my diet.
Q: Your turning point in life was…
A: Setting up my own business in 2004.
Q: And what gives you an adrenaline rush?
A: When I’m on stage DJing and playing the music I love.
Q: What makes you laugh and cry?
A: The Big Bang Theory and Fawlty Towers make me laugh; seeing injustice to the poor and refugees saddens me.
“My perfect day would be
one with satisfied customers,
efficient staff and no stress”
Q: How do you chill out?
A: I chill out at the Curve or The Bayleaf bars, walking after office or enjoying a spa treatment.
Q: What’s your quirkiest habit?
A: Scratching my head when I’m stressed.
Q: Some things no one knows about you…
A: My real name and that I read a Bible verse every day.
Q: Your fantasy date night would be…
A: With Jennifer Lopez in the Seychelles.
Q: And your perfect day…
A: My perfect day would be one with satisfied customers, efficient staff and no stress.
Q: How did you meet Cheryl?
A: In short, getting a haircut – but it’s a long story…
Q: How would you describe her?
A: Honest, kindhearted and patient.
Q: What are the father-daughter things you did while Asherah was growing up?
A: Taking her to school, sports and travelling.
Q: What was most challenging about her growing up years?
A: Her aversion to schoolbooks and studying in general, and never informing us about parent-teacher meetings!
Q: How have you coped sinceshe left the nest?
A: By spending time with my lab Amber.
Q: If you could open up avenue anywhere in the world, where would it be?
A: A jazz bar in Saint-Tropez.
Q: Who would you choose tobe if you could be someone else for a day?
A: Sir Richard Branson – because his entrepreneurship and views on life are very inspiring.
Q: What’s on your bucket list?
A: To travel more and be a grandpa.
Q: Where will you be 10years from now?
A: Still here… creating food related concepts.
Pub or lounge bar
Rock or jazz
Band or DJ
Scotch or vodka
Red or white wine
Pizza or pasta
Soup or salad
Salmon or steak
Sea or sky
Yacht or ship
Beach or ski
Mountain or river
Gym or swim
Jeans or khakis
Sneakers or loafers
T-shirt or shirt
Checks or stripes
Italian or French
Mediterranean or Scandinavian
Grand Prix or Wimbledon
Golf or cricket
Adventure or R&R
Theatre or cinema
Facebook or Instagram
BARS & LOUNGES
Raffles Long Bar (Raffles Hotel Singapore)
Home Delhi (New Delhi)
Café de Paris (Geneva)
Restaurant Pierre Orsi (Lyon)
Indian Accent (New Delhi)
Rod Laver Arena (Melbourne)
Sandalford winery (Australia)
Singapore Indoor Stadium (Kallang)
Earth, Wind & Fire