SUNDAY ROAST: TOW. SERIES EPISODE 2 | 2.CHURROS – SI
“Why not open a restaurant – the four of us, why not?”
Churros, my introduction into actually being a restaurateur*, began in Brisbane in the late 1970’s.
And it was a great idea – successful because it was absolutely zeitgeist, and driven by passion. I’ve often thought: where do great ideas come from? It’s funny the way they suddenly hit your brain like a Frisbee – out of nowhere, and so often when you are thinking of other things. There they come. Wham.
Isabelle Allende in a lecture on TED* * spoke about a friend who described her ideas or inspiration as being like “… wild buffalo galloping across the plains, past me towards the horizon. I have to grab them by the tail and wrestle them to the ground – because otherwise, I will miss my chance, and they will go out into the ether and settle somewhere else.” Does she mean that good ideas float from somewhere outside of us, looking for a fertile place to land? I think so. Certainly explains a lot.
* Note: the word has no “n”, and is originally from the French street vendors who sold hot soup – restoratives – out of thermoses lugged about on their backs. The noun restaurant came later, as some bright spark probably hocked the family jewels to provide customers with a place to sit and be served.
** TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design, and is a fantastic website filled to the brim with lectures by Icons in different fields from all over the world.
The genesis of Churros was pretty simple. Pete and I, having met out west when I was bar-maiding and he teaching, were back in Brisbane working. I’d studied teaching on the advice of family who thought both of us being teachers would be a great idea.
I think they were worried that I had no direction. Probably, they were right, but I studied and loved that, and worked in pubs and clubs to survive as a student. Coming out as a teacher though, was a bad fit, and I’d left to work in the corporate world.
My old flat mate, armed with a new fiancé had arrived, fresh from Spain. Janie was slight, pretty with thick fair wavy hair, bright blue eyes and was always quick to laugh. The Spaniards would have loved her. She had spent time in London, but somehow ended up in Spain, and met Javier Baptiste Solez-Fierra in Barcelona.
Back in Oz, Janie got in touch and we caught up, enjoying the warmth of old friendship and the melding of two couples. Pete and I had them over for one of our many dinner parties, and we began a new game. A drinking game of course, and Javier produced a “Bota” – a soft teardrop-shaped skin with a leather strap that one fills with wine, and attempts to then pour it into the mouth from a thin spout. A perfect solution to sharing bottles and germs, I’m still amazed it has never caught on elsewhere.
Of course, Javier was an expert, and made it look easier than it was. He tipped his head back, poured the red wine in a thin stream into his mouth, and managed to finish it without spilling a drop.
Marvellous. My turn. How hard can it be?
I took the spout in my right hand, tipped my head back, opened my mouth, and poured. All down my front. Shit. Bugger. Missed my mouth completely. I ended up with a red front, and not as drunk as I should have been. We laughed hysterically then Pete became serious.
“What are you going to do here, Javier?” he asked.
Javier shrugged, and Janie answered. “We’re thinking of importing cheap Spanish clothes and getting into the rag trade. What do you think?” She looked straight at me. I got the feeling that she knew getting a job would be hard for Javier – his English was at the beginner stage, so his work history and qualifications wouldn’t transfer easily.
“Well, I don’t know much about the rag trade – have you worked in it before?” I asked.
Janie shrugged. “No, and the thing that worries me is the importing – I reckon there’d be a lot to learn… it’s hard to know what to do. And we don’t have much money to fling about.”
The four of us went quiet, when I suddenly had a light bulb moment.
“Why not open a restaurant? The four of us – why not?”
We went quiet again. I added, “Look, Janie is working already, and Pete’s teaching. Javier and I could do the full time, and you guys come in at night! That way, we have a bit of security, and some income while we build a business. What do you think?” We agreed to think about it. The four of us.
After graduation and just two terms of teaching, my naïve dreams of utopian, child-centric schools had been dashed. I had already left education to become a trainer for a large international company in the office industry, and had just returned from Melbourne, which was newly replete with buzzing BYOs and cafés.
In 1977, Brisbane had very few restaurants, apart from the ubiquitous Chinese take-aways, and even fewer BYOs. Licensing laws then were restrictive, and an emerging gustatory class created a need for good food where you could bring your own wine to sit with friends who would dutifully marvel at your knowledge and expertise. This was borne out of some very active Beefsteak and Burgundy clubs, which in the years before Random Breath Testing, were probably the cause of many a post-prandial pile up.
Initially, Janie and Javier were doubtful. They were looking at buying a house, while Pete and I had just bought a new timber home in the western suburbs of Brisbane, so none of us had any spare money. But eventually they came around, decided that yes, it was a good idea, timely, and I prayed that my “extensive” experience in the industry (I was young and full of chutzpah) would carry us through. Janie and my husband, Pete, would keep their full time jobs, while Javier and I would provide the main labour.
And so Churros was borne.
We found new premises in an inner suburb that ticked all our boxes. Our side of town to start. Just off a main arterial road, and around the corner from a busy strip shopping centre that hosted some great food outlets. The area had a real foodie thing going, even though that word didn’t even exist then.
The building that housed “Churros” had a small terrace out the front, before the footpath, which, council approval pending, could be used for overflow and dining on balmy nights.
That location was so good, it is still functioning as a restaurant now, so many years later.
But, between the four of us, we had no spare money at all.