Vegetarian Restaurant/Venue 1975-1981
5 1/4 Brown Street, Chatswood, Sydney, NSW, Australia
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Jay's story

   
   

These are my memories and experiences from that time and it has been interesting to see Simon's version and find out some things I didn't know.

As I mentioned on the Home page, I discovered And Now For Something Completely Different around September 1976. I was actually told about it by my (crazy) vegan Economics teacher who highly recommended it for a good healthy local meal. This is the way I recall it...

I was 19 and living in Chatswood at the time, on the North Shore of Sydney, having just quit my previous job in banking to find something more 'meaningful'. I went up for lunch one day and was blown away with a great meal full of fresh sprouts and mixed beans all sprouted and cooked on the premises! I can still see and taste that meal 33 years later! This was long before health foods were mainstream and it was very rare to encounter such superbly fresh and yummy inspiring uplifting cooking smells and food in such a unique setting.

When I was leaving I said - "if there is ever a job going I would love to work here". To my surprise he said "well our dishwasher just walked out, would you like to start straight away?!" And so it began. Ken was very spontaneous.

I washed dishes for about 6 weeks. It was grueling sometimes, with 120 people on weekend nights and I wouldn’t finish until 2-3am on Friday and Saturday.

On some nights it would get so busy that the meals would sit on the serving table no matter how many times Ken rang for a waiter (waitress) and often I would throw-off my dishwashing apron and grab the meals and race them out to the tables before coming back to wash dishes. I had been watching how it was done and knew the table numbers.

Ken noticed my aptitude quite quickly (well I had just come from being a bank teller!) and within a couple of months I was waiting full time. This involved seating people, taking orders, making up entrees, serving meals, making up desserts and serving coffee. Later in the evening the coffee was often served on the low tables in front of the stage.

As part of that job I would also liaise with the musicians and do sound-checks for them, which is where I learned a lot of my early audio mixing skills. Often, if I heard a guitar that was too quiet, I would stop at the mixer on the way back from serving a table and push up the fader. It was soon second nature.

I became good friends with a lot of the musical acts there. I used to get up at the end of the night and play tambourine with Matt Moffitt’s band Jai Bolo, his band before Matt Finish. My drum kit was always next to the stage and Australia’s top session drummer Steve Hopes used to play my kit to save lugging his kit up there when Crossfire played.

Paul Dengate and I used to jam late at night and when his new drummer for his new band was delayed moving up from Melbourne, Paul asked me to 'sit in' (because I knew most of his songs) and actually play live in his band for 6 weeks on the busiest night of the week – Saturdays! This was a big thrill and my only stint ever in a live band. I even got pine-lime green streaks in my hair for the occasion.

In March 1978, about the same time Ken began withdrawing from the restaurant, I took 8 months off and went away to the country. In that time, living hand-to-mouth in a hand-made shack, I was delighted to receive regular cheques from Ken that kept me going.

When I returned to Sydney I was shocked to discover that Punk had transformed the hippy/acoustic/venue I had left, along with transforming the rest of the world. Gone were the alternative clothes and long hair replaced with cool and funky clothes, short haircuts and a whole new attitude. After being an integral part of the restaurant before that time, when I returned I was actually seen as the ‘old-school hippy-mentality’ and had to start from scratch and prove myself all over again. I was asked to see if I could get lunches working and they were a success so I returned to working evenings again after about 2 months.... back as dishwasher for a couple of months.

I just found this old half of a flyer for lunches that had something scribbled on the back. This artwork was done by Samantha.


I had met a girl, Samantha, at the restaurant after a few weeks back and she used to come and sit on the serving table in the kitchen and keep me company while I washed dishes into the early hours. That was nice.

 

Simon had transformed And Now For Something Completely Different from a restaurant/venue into a venue/restaurant with major overseas acts being booked. He had hooked up with promoters Les Giesler and Peter Noble and had really started to pack people in with higher entrance fees for the gig and less emphasis on the food. It was actually possible to come and just pay the cover fee to see the band. There was more prefabricated food bought in like bulk Spring Rolls etc. They were vegetarian but no longer so healthy and weren’t made 'on site'.

Over the years I had carefully watched the many cooks (Ken, Michael, Phil, Simon and many more) preparing and serving the food and I had been experimenting preparing my own meals in the afternoons. I had become quite a good cook and on regular occasions I had been standing in as kitchen hand and once or twice as cook. One day when the cook stormed out and there was no one to replace him I discussed it with Simon and he agreed to let me have a crack at running the kitchen.

This was a huge challenge but I knew most of the restaurant’s classic meals quite intimately having seen Ken prepare them originally, so I was a good choice to maintain the continuity. It was a great thrill but a lot of work, starting mid afternoon and working right through to midnight without stopping. Mind you it was always exciting with all the bands playing and staff running around to keep you energised. I think we all ran on pure adrenalin, with a bit of help from various other substances.

I ran the kitchen for almost a year until Simon decided to take some time off for 3 months for a stress break. And we must have found someone by then to cook because Simon let me manage the whole restaurant while he was away. I booked the bands, paid the staff and the bills, organised promotion and generally had a great time.

However, when he returned from being away I think he had had a few revelations and decided that he would like to put ‘chicken in a basket’ on the menu as a special thing to help attract more conventional people to the gigs. I protested vigorously and said, “it was me or the chooks”. By that stage I had become quite indispensable because I could basically be asked to do any job that was required in the restaurant. I was a great asset. Simon backed down and it stayed vego.

This happened a few times over a few months throughout 1980 and then one day I walked in and there, on the blackboard, was ‘Chicken in a basket’! I walked into the kitchen and said “so, the chooks won!?” He looked a little sheepish and cheesey and had to finally admit “yes”. Without hesitation I turned and walked out …and never went back.

I did not know that at the same time there was a two-pronged attack being hatched behind the scenes to actually close the restaurant.

Simon had turned the restaurant into one of Sydney’s leading alternative venues and certainly a great unlicensed venue with good food and nice clientele, compared to some of the other places, like pubs. In Chatswood, there was one main pub with quite a big music scene – The Charles Hotel – that just happened to be on the corner of Brown St about 200 metres down the road from the Diff restaurant. In fact, we used to go to The Charles and hang out sometimes because And Now For Something Completely Different was not licensed for alcohol. Since the start of the restaurant we had always made it ‘B.Y.O.’ and had a small corkage charge but for some reason Ken (and Simon) were not aware that B.Y.O. actually required a license!

The Charles Hotel had actually started to lose a bit of business from the music patronage (or were paranoid that that they were losing people) and because they relied on that for their alcohol consumption they saw And Now For Something Completely Different as a threat. Nonetheless, they talked to their mates at the Licensing Department and had them ‘pay the Vegy restaurant a visit’. They gave Simon two weeks to get a B.Y.O. license or they would close it down. The license cost $20,000, which in early 1981 money for a small veggie restaurant, was impossible.

As mentioned on the Home page, Ken turned the restaurant over to Simon in the late 70’s because of stress and problems. Ken watched Simon push his beloved restaurant more into being a venue and it was gradually disintegrating, from Ken's difficult, outside perspective.

So, coincidentally, at exactly the same time, without any of the other parties knowing - I left because of the chicken + the licensing squad threatened Simon with closure over the B.Y.O. license + Ken freaked out and went to the Health Dept and complained about how it was being run, saying to them that there were cleanliness issues (which there weren't). All of that in the same two week period!

Within a fortnight of me leaving, it was gone, vanished! How weird is that?! How crazy that we didn't take photos or keep memorabilia and that there are no movies found of that time ... yet.

Jay
1st Nov 2009

Explore what Jay did after the restaurant here.

Note: if you look at Simon's story you will see there was a lot more going on than we knew!

 

 

 

   
   

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Stories: Simon I Sally I Jay I Paul I Kirk I Vivienne I Staff I Customers
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Vegetarian Restaurant/Venue 1975-1981

5 1/4 Brown Street, Chatswood, Sydney, NSW, Australia

jay@AndNowForSomethingCompletelyDifferent.com.au