Friday, 9 March 2012

Rebuilding the "Grape Escape"

Another local Peter Johnstone, a plumber took on the reigns as the builder. We kept the "Grape" trading for as long as possible whilst we did construction work work around the existing business, as we needed every dollar we could rouse up.

We eventually had to close  after a complaint from a customer, that a piece of ceiling plaster had fallen onto his plate as he was enjoying lunch, because there was construction work being done upstairs.On the Saturday I decided to have an auction of all the tat and brica - brac, furnishings not being used when we reopened. Harvey Dewshore became the auctioneer and sold most of what was to be auctioned in the afternoon, that night became a wild night, more so, as when we closed the bar and went to do the tills to count  the nights takings, the bank bag with the auction money had disappeared and never was found.

This was a major rebuild compared to what  had been done in the past. There was building to be done on all three levels, up until now we had only used the ground floor and the cellar underneath the bar.Besides the construction work, there was also the sourcing and purchasing of the new furnishings, fittings and equipment that was to be installed into the new areas. Such as the new dining room upstairs with it's own Kitchen. Extending the existing kitchen, as downstairs was being nearly doubled in capacity, as the toilets at the end of the bar  had been deemed inadequate by the licensing police so were relocated  downstairs and twice the size plus we built an office .By doing this, the bar became larger and from the bar you walked out onto a veranda which was buit over the office, this area seated another twenty five or so.

North Sydney Council was supportive of our plans, I think this was helped by Carol Baker who was the Lord Mayoress and a frequent customer, also we got along well with Licensing and the North Sydney Police ,as we kept a tidy house downstairs, what happened upstairs, was our business. We were three young blokes, healthy and fit, becoming wealthy,  I lacked wisdom but had plenty of vision. I was starting to take out Ave Wilson  and we were becoming an item, she was working at the Grape and helping with the upstairs restaurant

I was starting to feel the pressure now the Grape was closed, to finish the rebuild and get the place reopened, and start making some dollars as our debts were mounting. I was hooking into a fair bit of dope at the time and that was not the wisest move as I really needed my wits about me. 

I went back to my parents home one time during the day,in that period of closedown.
I did not think any of my folks were at  home. The gardens at the back of the house are steep, terraced and kept natural with a creek at the bottom, in the middle of the creek  was a big rock that I used to sit on when I was a kid and look up at the immense size of the Gum Trees and watch the water swirl around either side of the rock, especially after heavy rains.  We were the last house in the street,  our back garden was very private, though it had no fence and adjoined and  looked over the first tee of the Lane Cove Country Club. it was surrounded by bush and people could not see into our property. I was sitting there remembering how Mum and Dad had built the house and the garden over years and I started to cry and cry and could not stop, feeling remorse, drugs and booze do that  to me.Out of no where, Mum  quietly with out a word appeared behind me, and gently started massaging my neck and  shoulders, until I finished crying, and just as quietly as she came, she went .Oh! I miss them both.

We re opened after being closed for about six weeks, prematurely, the glass still had to be installed into the timber frames of the windows in the new veranda off the bar. One customer thought it,' a creative way of air conditioning'.

Once all done the place looked fantastic - though there was a fair bit of fine tuning, to be done on service and cuisine, and completion of the backyard which was still a tip for demolition works, and was the last job to be done, in completing the scope of works.
There were some inconsistencies and mistakes that I made, in furniture selection for the veranda and the menu was to big. Conceptually, the three levels were now being utilised 100%, as an operational "Grape Escape" and had a capacity of fifty diners upstairs with it's own kitchen. An enlarged downstairs kitchen that caters to another hundred diners with increased bar area that could accommodate another fifty or so, and the garden another fifty- in all the 'Grape' could cater for a couple of hundred customers in one sitting.

I was feeling pretty washed up at this stage, having completed the design and construction program, co ordinated all the trades and consultants. Sourced and installed new furnishings, antiques and equipment, employed and trained new staff for kitchen, bar and floor. Created with the chefs, new menus for lunch and diner for bistro and our French la carte restaurant upstairs and organised marketing and opening nights. 

 I decided, after we had been opened for a few weeks, a holiday was in order and with Tony Flook and Monte Gildea we flew to Rio de Janeiro for Carnivale for a week, and then the plan was onto New York to check out some restaurants, then San Francisco to see old mates and home.I left the 'Grape' in the hands of Graham and Warwick, hoping all would be well on my return.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Tony Mathers,
    Have really loved your world adventures,now enjoying your entrepreneurial adventures,its like getting a new page of a novel to read,