I hope someone told the pelicans that the last meal has sailed from the kitchen of Bretts Wharf on the Brisbane River at Hamilton.
They were lining up on Saturday afternoon as a young chef strolled up and down the boardwalk sharing the kitchen's left overs with an appreciative crowd of pelicans and seagulls in what is obviously a regular event. They are going to be hungry today.
Rewriting the book on ‘How to close a restaurant with style’, Bretts Wharf co-owner Genny Neilson and Executive Chef Alastair McLeod have finished the final chapter in the restaurant’s history with a block buster weekend of service.
When I spoke to Genny on Saturday her concern was to find a job for the one remaining staff member who had not been redeployed. If you need someone who is excellent at filleting fish and making rice paper rolls, talk to Genny.
The upbeat atmosphere in the restaurant on Saturday was a credit to all involved.
Why did it happen? Here's a statement from the team -
“The business had been doing very well and was achieving record sales results when it suffered a mortal wound in March 2011 when we announced that the Brisbane City Council had resumed Bretts Wharf for road widening. That forced us to cancel all confirmed bookings after January 2012 and to turn away about $2 million worth of future function and catering business in 2012 and beyond” Alastair said.
“Then, in late November 2011, just eight weeks before we were set to close, came the news that the council had changed its mind about Kingsford Smith Drive and we now wouldn’t need to close down”.
What that meant was that this much loved Brisbane icon was placed in the unenviable position of remaining open with the same massive running costs and two thirds of its business (the functions and catering) completely ruined, with no forward bookings and a hugely compromised public confidence. To make matters worse, the business had halted it’s marketing activities and quite logically cancelled all types of annual promotions and advertising activities such yellow pages, annual wedding magazines and so on.
The closure of Bretts Wharf shows how a finely balanced successful restaurant’s operations thrown out of kilter by uncertainty over City Council intentions and minus function and wedding bookings can be too hard to pull back on track. Sometimes hard work, a fabulous location and great food is just not enough.
Alastair McLeod said the last day was ‘a bit like to guy who fell into a vat of varnish - a horrible death but a lovely finish.’
Bretts Wharf may be closing I’m sure that will not be the last bad joke Alastair tells. His list of commitments is long and interesting and includes a food inspired tour of Vietnam which I would love to join.
Fans of Alastair’s cooking should find their way to Tank in Tank Street, CBD. It’s another Genny and Alastair show and is well worth a visit.
Here’s what we ate at our last Bretts Wharf lunch on Saturday -