Palate Pleasures – The Ghost Of Restaurants Past

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You never know what could be lurking on a dusty bookshelf – the other day whilst giving the dust mites a once-over, I chanced upon a relic from another era … A historical archive named The Great Australian Restaurant Guide 2005 – 2006.

With a degree of morbid fascination, I perused this ancient tome to see which temples of gastronomy were worshipped at back then, and even more amazingly, if any of their doors still remained open today.

Additionally, this particular publication was furthermore captivating in a personal sense, as 2005 was a significant year for The Stunned Mullet, as it was the year in which we opened the restaurant.

A decade, you may believe, is a relatively tiny sliver of time. We all probably have some ten-year-old clothes in our wardrobe that we might still wear. The music of 2005 doesn’t sound that hideously dated – or does it? Perhaps this is just another sign of the ageing process! Time to end this mode of comparison …

The point I am clumsily trying to make however, is that a decade in the restaurant world is an absolute eternity. Looking at The Great Australian Restaurant Guide 2005 – 2006, I would even go so far as to liken restaurant years to dog years – i.e. one human year is equivalent to seven restaurant years!

There are many reasons for this accelerated ageing process – the first and most dramatic of these is the “failure factor”- the unfortunate and sobering statistic that something like 70% of start-up restaurants need to close their doors in the first year. It is a fickle and fragile business, of extreme risk to even the most experienced operators.

Apart from the vast economic and financial pressures inherent in the industry, there are the subtler, yet still vital hindrances to longevity with regard to relevance in the marketplace – the capturing of current food and cuisine trends and dining styles, encompassing the broadest of scopes all the way from health related fads, to a desire for casual, loungey dining with shared plates as opposed to fine dining white tablecloths.

Happen upon a current trend, execute it well in right location, with the right team and offer it at the right price – you have a (pardon the obvious pun) “recipe” for success.

Getting all this right requires serious luck, skill, hard work and foresight. Unfortunately, this part is just the tip of the iceberg …

It is keeping it right to remain viable throughout the restaurant “dog” years that is the real challenge – staying current to meet the ever changing climate of trends, and yet still remaining consistent with delivery of both food and service whilst facing the prospect of an industry with the highest turnover of staff of any other.

And that is why each year a restaurant keeps its doors open feels like a really long time indeed.

Now back to the museum piece restaurant guide, of which you would be itching to know if there was anyone still standing …

Out of the 25 top restaurants in NSW, only three remained – which actually comes in at a whopping 12%. Not as dire as I had thought. Must be mentioned, however, that one of the still thriving restaurants is Beppi’s in East Sydney, which has been run by the Polese family since 1956!

Now that just totally blows the dog year theory out of the window, but goes to show that if you stick to the classics and have a passionate, multi-generational family running the show – well, the seemingly impossible is possible.

At this point here in Port Mac, the children of The Stunned Mullet are way below the legal working age (nudge, wink!) and we aim to let them make their own career choices …

But this sobering book has made us very grateful to still be around. We thank you all so very much for all your support that has enabled us to keep trading into our 11th year – without you, we would just be another archive!

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