More from our Taste Of Time series, talking to some of the longest established cafés and restaurants in the region. Words by Sharon Timms.
The restaurant game is a fickle one. In the culinary world, the birth of a restaurant can often be followed by relatively short lifespan - restaurants are often hot and then they’re not. Research shows that today ninety percent of restaurants that make it past the five year mark will only operate for a minimum of ten years total, so keeping a restaurant business going for over 30 years is quite an accomplishment.
After 33 years in the game, Dundee’s proprietor Gary Low acknowledges that although it has been a challenging time for restaurants recently, Dundee’s has thrived and even expanded with asecond venue at the Cairns Aquarium – a credit to the business’s consistency of product, thorough research and good staff.
“Cairns has had over 20 restaurants close in the last 12 months, that says what the industry is like at the moment,” Gary says. “But the industry will bounce back - it is a cycle.”
All those years ago, Gary and his business partners – all young tourism and hospitality whippersnappers putting in the hours on Lizard Island at the time - put the concept together for Dundees. They wanted to create a local restaurant, a steak house-come-seafood diner where locals could feel as comfortable as at home. The infamous pilot strike of 1989 meant changing tack very quickly to being more involved in the inbound market as well as the locals. “Thankfully, that decision got us through the tough times, and we came out the other side as well regarded and internationally recognised. We have a lot of international guests that regularly frequent us. And our local following is loyal.
“Since then, we’ve survived the SARS outbreak, a GFC and a naturally tumultuous industry. However, it’s our consistency that is the backbone of our survival.”
Dundee’s Restaurant captures the three ingredients of success at its best. Great food, great location and perfect ambience. Open seven days a week for coffee, lunch and dinner, Dundee’s is positioned directly on the boardwalk with glorious views over Marlin Marina, Trinity Inlet and mountains.Gary and his current business partners Marion and Paul Wright and Tina and James Wort (who are the restaurant’s front of house manager and head chef respectively) oversee a team of 80 and serve up an average of 1000 meals a day, and credit the staff around them to the inherent success of the venues. “When you have the right people around you, you get a lot of energy from them,” Gary says. “Our staff are all part of the Dundees family.
“Labour costs and quality of staff is what kills small business. And it’s very hard to find qualified, passionate staff, so we have kept our team tight by treating them like family. Their work ethic is great, and I’d like to think we treat our people well. They look after me and I look after them.”
And when asked what has kept him in a notoriously difficult business all these years? “I just love it. I used to manage resorts, love the people contact. It’s a challenging industry to be in, but it’s better than politics.”
Dundee’s on the Waterfront,
1 Marlin Parade, Cairns Harbour Lights
Dundee’s at the Aquarium
5 Florence Street, Cairns