IT was an era when long business lunches were claimed on tax and a decent steak set you back a couple of dollars. Ballarat's food scene has come a long way since the seventies but according to three restaurateurs, some key things like consistency and service haven't changed. Kara Irving reports.
IT was an order Table 48 owner Gus Raschilla couldn't refuse.
"A lady called up last week asking if we could make a cake for her friends' 60th birthday," he said.
"She didn't care what it cost... so we made it happen."
Very rarely would the Ballarat foodie knock back an opportunity to help others.
"I'm always going out of my way to please the customers," Gus said.
"I'd never knock back a dollar."
Gus, 61, is one of the few food icons still working in Ballarat, after four decades in the kitchen.
Over the years the industry has become a family affair, with the Dyers, Coghlans, Frangos's and Faustinis making their mark on the town.
Gus said quality food and customer service were the key ingredients to success.
"This industry is about hard work and being passionate," he said.
"No one is going to give you money for nothing."
When a customer told Gus she couldn't eat pork, he made sure a separate set of pans were available in the kitchen to cook her meal.
"I have to go above and beyond," he said.
"Without the customer, there is no business."
Gus, who opened his first restaurant La Terrazza in 1974, said there weren't many dining choices in Ballarat at the time.
"There were only three major players in the pizza industry," he said.
"Eureka, the Log Tavern and us."
A long lunch
Ballarat's longest-serving restaurants
- 160 years: The George Bistro
- 42 years: Dyers Steak Stable
- 42 years: Eureka Pizza
- 30 years: L'Espresso
- 26 years: Tokyo Grill House
- 19 years: Europa Café
- 15 years: Sebastiaan
- 12 years: Eclectic Tastes
- 7 years: Pipers by the Lake
Eureka Pizza, spearheaded by Italian born Charlie Tarquino, was the first pizza restaurant in Ballarat, opening in 1972.
Current manager Brett Christensen said the pizza menu had not changed in four decades.
"The food has been pretty much the same," Brett said.
"The pizza has never changed. But meals from the kitchen have increased."
Brett said Ballarat's food culture had changed over the decades, with dishes becoming more complex.
"In the 1970s, the food was a lot simpler," he said.
"It was harder to get spices or flavourings to add to your recipes and there were a lot of food enhancers.
"We don't use any additives these days, the flavours are fresh."
"In the 1970s, the food was a lot simpler. It was harder to get spices or flavourings"
Dyers Steak Stable manager Campbell Dyer said there were fewer restaurants in Ballarat in the seventies and eighties.
"Business was really different back then," Campbell said.
"We have more choices today."
Dyers was renowned for attracting large crowds for lunch, with business people claiming their meals on tax.
"You could get a decent cut of steak for $1.20," he said.
"Some people would stay 'til 4pm, it was a different culture back then."
Murray and Joy Dyer founded the steak restaurant at Little Bridge Street in 1972.
Joy said it was one of the first independent restaurants to open in Ballarat.
"Everyone thought Murray was mad," she said.
"They said it wouldn't work."
Like Eureka Pizza, the Dyers haven't changed their menu in 40 years.
"Dyers menu hasn't really changed," Campbell said.
"We like to stick to our guns and do what we have always done, which is steak."
Gus said while it was important to keep up with the trends, you couldn't change your cuisine too much.
"We like to be consistent in a lot of our food," he said.
"We have simple tasty food, simplicity is always the key.
"We try and keep up with trends, but we have our staples."
"You could get a decent cut of steak for $1.20. Some people would stay 'til 4pm, it was a different culture back then"
Gus opened his first restaurant, La Terrazza, with business partner Dino Cudia, in 1974.
La Terrazza, located on the corner of Errard and Sturt Street, served authentic Italian dishes until the pair parted ways in 1979.
The launch of Agostinos in 1992 was Gus's first taste of the big time.
He even launched a condensed version of the restaurant on Little Bridge Street before selling the property and relocating to his current Humffray Street address.
Table 48 has been open for four years, with Gus's customer base joining him on his culinary journey.
Gus said the future of Ballarat's food industry was promising.
"What has changed in Ballarat is we have every culture of food," he said.
"We have Indian, Chinese, Mexican, African and Spanish... we are evolving nicely."
Despite new restaurants sprouting across Ballarat, Gus said the regional town was still behind Melbourne in the food stakes.
"We do follow Melbourne, but we are bit behind," he said.
"There is still no Greek restaurant here."
He also said customers had over the years changed their perception on food.
"Especially since more people are travelling overseas and they are having good experiences with food," he said.
"People are getting educated."
Campbell believes Ballarat's food scene has become quite sophisticated.
"Food is more sophisticated, we have more options in Ballarat," he said.
"I think diners want a change. When Catfish opened, people loved it. They wanted more choices.
"Customers are educated and more interested in food."
Brett said restaurants had better access to quality produce, especially in regional towns like Ballarat.
He said Eureka Pizza had moved away from freezing their food and were buying fresh produce almost daily.
"It is like what they are doing in Melbourne and buying their seafood fresh everyday," he said.
"We have the ability now, because of the suppliers, to buy our seafood fresh."
He also believes Ballarat food is on par with, if not better, than Melbourne.
"A lot of our influences come from Melbourne and a lot of our clientele eat in the city on a regular basis," Brett said.
"They come back and compare our food to Melbourne, but I think we have a higher standard."