Saturday, 1 January 2000

Garry and Ian from Rockerfellers

Ian Cox and Garry Dorrington (ex Rockerfellers) were in town recently (Sept 2008)and Rita took the opportunity to have breakfast at Dukkah and Pigeon Hole with them and reminisce about the good old days!

Ian and Garry could arguably be called the grandfathers of hospitality in Hobart, along with a few other stalwarts. Garry has been plying his trade (hospitality in Hobart) since late 1972, when he got a job in the new (at that time) Revolving Restaurant in Wrest Point. Prior to that he had been working as a tour guide for the National Trust at Runnymeade in New Town for a few years.

Ian, being a qualified Horticulturist, arrived in Hobart to take up a job with the Clarence Council as Manager of Parks and Reserves, which he did for 3 years. The period that Wrest Point opened the casino and Revolving Restaurant was a revolutionary time for fine dining in Hobart. If you were around at the time, you’ll remember how strict door staff were enforcing the dress code to get in the doors of WP. Not like today when any riff raff can walk in decked out in trackies and joggers!

In those days, denim was a total no-no, no matter how much it had cost you to buy. American comedian Jerry Lewis was an example of the relentless dress code policing at WP. Lewis was, at the time, the huge billing entertainment name in the Cabaret Room, which, by the way, encompassed a fully formal, white linen, sit-down meal prior to your entertainment. Mr Lewis was having a bit of a wander through the gambling area after his performance one evening, but as he was clothed in denim, albeit Armani which he’d paid more than the doorman’s annual wages for, he was thrown out!

They were just as strict about any male not wearing a tie and jacket. There was initial conjecture that if you didn’t have a suit on you couldn’t get in, but I think that was just gossip. They were horrendously strict though, and even though it was a real pain in the arse, at least everyone actually looked quite smart. Women in long dresses was common attire there. How often do you see that now? I myself am definitely not a formal dress person, but can appreciate others looking their very best in more formal attire.

Following the stint at the Revolving Restaurant, Garry left, along with David Siepen (who was a fellow staff member there) and they worked at Angelos, which was, at various times, Winter Garden, then Angelos, then Silvers Nightclub, then latterly Mona Lisa, in Liverpool Street.

The next phase of their lives was to involve their business partnership running some wonderful, historic venues round town. The groundbreaking 159 Davey (at that address) in 1976, after which followed (in 1978) the equally groundbreaking Beaujangles in Victoria Street. How popular was their Sunday brunch at Beaujangles? We’d never seen such food and so many people going out for brunch!

After Beaujangles came Sweethearts, which initially was sited near where Trafalgar Place now is. When that area was redeveloped, they moved to Bathurst Street, where Siam Gardens now is. Sweethearts was the place for fabulous desserts. Sweethearts existed from about 1979 till 1985.

That then heralded the start of Rockerfellers, originally above Knopwoods, where Syrup now is. They were at that site for 6 years then moved to their last address in the former Gibsons Mills, where Catch now is. They owned Rockerfellers for 19 years in all – an astronomic amount of time for hospitality in Hobart.

During the course of their Rockerfeller ownership, they started a few other ventures up as well – namely Cha Cha’s, on the site of Banjo’s in Elizabeth Street, and Sticky Fingers Ice Cream Parlour. Cha Cha’s rates up there as one of the best restaurant openings I attended because it had previously been another restaurant which was sold on to the boys along with all the alcohol. Naturally the cleaning out of the wine cellar and top shelf occurred at the opening, so there were many people staggering out of that particular restaurant opening very much the worse for wear! It operated for 3 years then closed down.

Sticky Fingers was another landmark venue. The boys established it with the ultimate idea being that it would fund their retirement. However, out of the blue and 3 years into its operation someone made them an offer for the business that was too great for them to refuse, so they sold it. It was a boutique ice cream parlour, with all the adventurous flavours made on the premises. As well as the customers coming onto the premises, every restaurant in town wanted to use their ice cream. They were run off their feet.

The introduction of the Fine Food awards at the Show saw them winning Gold for their beautiful ice cream. Stephanie Alexander also wanted her restaurant in Melbourne to be supplied with their well known Pink Grapefruit Sorbet.As fast as the ice cream was made, it was eaten, leading to a sign being made for the door to account for the sudden 2 hour closures they were often forced to have: “You’re licking it faster than we can make it”. It was a great money spinner for them.

They also fought for the right to be able to develop the Cornelian Bay Boat House site, and obviously won, ultimately. They retain their interest in the restaurant to this day, and should be justifiably proud of it.

I asked the boys if they could recall any really memorable incidents from their 19 years at Rockerfellers. A few came up. A dinner guest one evening was Rolf Harris. Rolf used the loo at one stage, and returned telling the boys that the sign on the toilet door was fading a bit, and asking them if they wanted him to touch it up with a texta! Naturally they agreed, so Rolf went to work and produced one of those famous Rolf Harris works of art, with the finished product looking great. The boys were rapt and decided that next day they’d get someone in to glass over the sign and thus preserve it for posterity. Unfortunately their mega-efficient cleaner started her early morning cleaning shift at 5.00 am next morning, and with a lot of hard scrubbing, managed to clean off the “scribblings” someone had done on the toilet door the night before, so she proudly announced to the boys when they arrived later that morning! Bugger!

A few bad nights also came to mind for the boys. One instance was at the old Rockers when one of their chefs was going upstairs with a large stockpot (with no lid) full of liquid toffee. As the pot had a handle missing, he was holding it with a tea towel wrapped round it. (The boys had previously told him to toss out said pan). He slipped on the stairs and managed to tip the whole pot of molten toffee all over himself. The blood-curdling scream of anguish from the chef in the stairwell was what alerted all to the disaster. He received extensive burns and his body immediately stiffened as the shock set in. Staff had to lift him onto the bar to lie in the prone position till medical help arrived. He had to have many skin grafts.

Another busy Friday night, packed to the rafters with customers, they had an American tourist dining alone who managed to drink 2 bottles of red along with a 3 course meal. At the end, looking decidedly green, he stood up to leave, and immediately vomited all over the restaurant, spraying most of the restaurant and customers! The restaurant had to be cleared; meals which were on their way out returned to the kitchen; in-coming customers turned away; everyone present offered free wine, drinks etc in order to placate them, and the whole disgusting mess cleaned up. Vomit had gone everywhere, even in women’s handbags, as people subsequently found out when they later delved into their handbags for wallet or car keys!

The boys say that hospitality in Hobart was kind to them and they loved their time here working in restaurants. They never looked round at what other people were doing, but did their own thing. Their hard and fast rule for success was that the business absolutely ALWAYS came first. The business was their priority at all times. Their whole life revolved round the business, and they were never deflected. They provided a lot of colour and personality to the dining out landscape of Hobart and I, for one, miss their constant presence immensely.


Anonymous said...

where are they now?

Anonymous said...

I was only wondering the same thing a couple of weeks back when we had dinner at Catch, and I was regaling TGH with my favourite Rockers stories.

Rita said...

Hi Anons - I haven't heard anything of them since they left after regaling me with the narrative above. Last I heard, they were happily living in Sydney.

Sue said...

I loved reading this list..the memories of Beaujuangles (who'd ever heard of those cocktails?) and 159 exotic. Those guys are legends and I wish they'd come back.

Anonymous said...

I'm not quite sure why Garry and Ian are mentioned here? Their restaurants were famed more for their lack of hygeine (unwashed dishes, dirty tables and cutlery etc) and their knack of sending people away with food poisoning.


wee Trevor said...

Always had a great time with anything to do with Gary & Ian.

I've wondered about them too.

Saw them walking in town as I drove past a week or so ago (ie early May 2011)

wee Trevor

PS Rita - how are you?

Ruby said...

I was reading this post and started reminiscing about Hobart Restaurant's in the 80's. I remember there was an annual Restauranteurs Ball. Having been out of the state for many years I was wondering if this still happens?

Anonymous said...

they can't afford one