In the late 1980s when restaurants flourished in Goulburn, one in particular made such a splash it’s still talked about today.
The city’s crisp autumn air crackled with excitement when Danny’s Brasserie opened. George Stamatellis, his three sons, Chris, Paul and Phillip, and their uncle, Dennis, were betting everything on their new venture opposite the Goulburn Town Hall.
The Paragon Cafe had vacated the building, and its owners, George and John Nissyrios, for who George and Dennis had once worked, suggested the three Stamatellis sons should open there. The Paragon moved to opposite the post office.
The Stamatellis boys’ ‘apprenticeships’ were well and truly completed when their father and Dennis – aka Danny – closed the Radnor cafe in 1984. Earlier, Paul was eight when his parents realised he could stand on a wooden soft-drink crate and serve customers.
After school and on weekends, while their school mates enjoyed sport and trips to the South Coast, the boys peeled potatoes, squeezed oranges, washed plates, mopped floors, filled soft-drink fridges and served customers.
Entering the workforce, Paul began as a night watchman, barman and cellar man at Goulburn Workers Club. A friend then offered him the manager’s job at George’s Seafood and Steakhouse in Belconnen, ACT, for two years before Danny’s Brasserie lured him back to Goulburn in 1988.
“I had always thought there was a gap in the market,” says Paul. “You either had restaurants – 147 Restaurant, Blue Plate, Fireside Inn – or the cafes such as the Paragon, Blue and White Cafe and the Radnor. But nothing for good, casual all-day dining. That’s why we called it [Danny’s] a brasserie; we wanted to be that point of difference.”
Ignoring their accountant’s advice not to open because of the steep costs, Danny’s Brasserie launched with a menu which put a Mediterranean spin on seafood. It included pastitsio (Greek lasagne), moussaka and tzatziki on souvlaki.
“We didn’t want to do the typical mixed grill,” says Paul. “We had a $500,000 loan to do the fit-out in someone else’s freehold which, back in the day, you might say was a little bit daring.
“Dennis was OK with it. He was a bachelor and was rolling the dice as we were, with nothing to lose. But my father wasn’t OK with it because he put his house on the line as security for us to get that loan. We couldn’t let the family down; we had to make it a success.”
They couldn’t afford cleaners so Phillip vacuumed the floor each morning. Paul cleaned the toilets. They worked 100 hours a week and were often at the restaurant until 1 am or 2 am. On Fridays and Saturdays, second sittings would see 150-160 people dine at Danny’s.
“I think by week two we had exceeded by 40 per cent our projected turnover,” says Paul. “I wouldn’t say it was an overnight success [but] within six months we knew we were on a winner.”
French/Greek chef Tas Chipreo began in the Danny’s Brasserie kitchen with George and Chris. Later, friend Eric Day’s daughter, Janene, an apprentice chef at the Commercial Club in Albury, took up Paul’s invitation to join Danny’s.
“She was magnificent,” he says. “Phillip moved into the kitchen and ended up marrying Janene. They became the kitchen’s main chefs. Another excellent chef, Mick Chintis – the original owner of the Brandy Balloon with Con Dukiris – also joined Danny’s.”
Regular diners included local graziers and business people such as the Maple-Browns, Len and Jane Pockley, the Crokers, Seamons, Pickers, Ray Holgate, John Broadhurst, Lloyd and Peter Godfrey, Miles and Carmel Bush, the Bowmans, Keith Gegg, Bill Lambert, Bill Storrier and Brian Walkom.
“The hardest part was after getting married, the lack of time I had with my family,” says Paul. “That was a killer, especially when my children were young. I didn’t want ‘groundhog day’ – we had not seen our parents because they were always working.”
Around 2001, Goulburn Workers Club approached Danny’s Brasserie to be contract caterers when the club expanded into Auburn Street. The Workers’ gain was the original Danny’s loss. Most regular customers opted for 30 per cent cheaper meals at the club. Eventually the family closed the brasserie and remained at the Workers until 2009.