Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Setting up the "Grape Escape''

Not having a big budget put limitations on the spending when fitting out the 'Grape', the name which it became affectionately known . After we had completed the painting internally and externally which we did ourselves and the furnishings, fittings and equipment were installed. 

Our next task was employing the staff - they were, it was unanimous, to be good looking ladies with bubbly personalities. Interviewing  was a joy, as word was around the North Shore and there were plenty of applicants and plenty of good sorts to choose from, we figured as we were going to operate seven days per week we would employ about twenty. Being in close proximity to North Sydney, which then was home to most of the advertising industry, meant a lot of the ladies applying came from that industry- not to say all, there were also, aspiring actresses, models and uni  students as much as advertising. 

One of the first to be employed was Larraine Shadforth, an English lady who was a Cordon Bleu trained chef, who was the wife of a friend of ours whom we met on Bilgola Beach just after their return from Canada and later onsite where she 'interviewed us.' Lorraine was not deterred by the size of the Kitchen or the meagre equipment and took over the reign very capably. Larraine stayed with us for two years, cooking excellent comfort food with minimum fuss and no complaints.  

Her initial Menu consisted of:  Oysters or pate  maison with basket of toast, Rump or topside steaks, jacket  potato with sour  cream  or herb butter and a green  salad. Always  a dish of  the  day - casserole, goulasch, chicken  a la king, chilli  con  carne, beef  bourguignon etc  Cheese cake for  dessert. There were chalkboards, behind the bar and in the rooms and were chalked up daily.

Then there was training, a little bit like - the blind leading the blind. in setting up for operation we were led by Penfolds who we had an arrangement to buy seventy percent of stock from them, as we held their  wine license.They provided tasting courses for all the staff at their headquarters in Tempe. Our drinks list was pretty basic like everything else, by the glass: cider, red & white wine, champagne (Great Western), champagne & orange,dry or sweet vermouth (Cinzano), ports, selling for .25c per glass. Supplemented with a wine list of reds, whites and sparkling wines by the bottle. Lindeman's Ben Ean Moselle and Seppelts Para Port being some of the big sellers, all these groups used to love it when the girls from the 'Grape' would turn up for wine knowledge and tastings. 

And why not, they were all stunning ladies  - Gail Baxter, wife of Stevie Wright from the 'Easy Beats'. Janet Patterson who became Australia's leading  costume designer nominated for four oscars - The Piano, Oscar and Lucinda, Bright Star and Portrait of a Lady. Actress Kerry Armstrong  (Lantana and Sea Change) Ave Wilson, Kerry Hamble, Denise Meares, Cynthia Palmer,Pam Woods, the list is endless and these ladies and many others, helped make the "Grape Escape" the overnight success it became.

Our intention was to open for lunch and dinner, Monday to Friday, additional to hot food from the kitchen we  provided bar food as in English Pubs, such as Pork Pies and pickled onions, carved ham off the bone with crusty bread and mustard and a cheese platter.On Saturdays we did a champagne breakfast, which consisted of scrambled eggs - made in an electric fry pan,toast and glass of champers.

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