THE CALIFORNIA GRILL BAR
From the Archives
By Paulette Flint
A popular meeting place where locals could go after the Friday and Saturday night movies at the Civic and Regent Theatres was the California Grill Bar which was located at 52-54 Goondoon Street. There, they could sit and chat, or dance, until the wee hours of the morning, and be assured of a great steak burger for supper as well.
In July 1957, Perce and Muriel Turner and Jim Shepherd and wife bought the Grill Bar from Frank Periera (later of Gladstone Fisheries and Cold Stores) and Alan Dickson. Jim was well known in Mackay where he was the assistant general manager for Woodman sawmillers, timber and hardware merchants. Percy and Muriel came to Gladstone from Ipswich, where Percy managed a cordial factory.
The Turner family moved into a house on the hill behind the Grill Bar, and Percy was able to rise early to go down the hill to the café to prepare breakfast. Later, the family moved to a house on the corner of Glenlyon and Yarroon Streets.
About twelve months after purchasing the business, the Turners bought out the Shepherds’ share. In the early days of the Grill Bar, the Turners thought they had a busy night when they had ten meals to prepare, but when Queensland Alumina came to Gladstone, bringing with it a huge boost in population, they were cooking up to 80 meals a night.
The original California Grill Bar was housed in a wooden building. Customers and passers-by on the footpath could watch, through the windows, Percy prepare meals on the hotplate. Along the side wall were the fish and chip urns, with a wood combustion stove next to them. This stove provided a supply of hot water used in the shop, and was also used as a second hot plate during busy cooking periods. Coffee grains were placed in a saucepan on this stove, and covered with water to percolate. The coffee was strained and added to full cream milk to produce milk coffee.
Percy and Muriel and their daughters worked in the Grill Bar. Potatoes were peeled and cut by machine in a back room of the shop. The chips were placed on wire racks, washed thoroughly and left to drain before they were cooked. A small window looked down into the back of the café where there was a pocket-sized dance floor. Here young people would jive or rock ‘n’ roll to music from the juke box. The seating in this area was in secluded booths where initials were often carved into the wooden table tops, much to the dismay of the Turner girls, who would repaint them, only to have them scratched again the following day.
A ladder led down from the ‘chip’ room into a filleting room, which was also the back entrance into the café. In the early days, Percy, and on some occasions, Muriel, filleted all the fish used in the café. The most popular were the red emperor and sweet lip, purchased from the local Fish Board. When mud crabs were available, Percy would cook them in the copper. When prawns were available from the Fish Board, they were also sold.
On the left side of the old shop was the milk bar, where delicious frothy milkshakes could be purchased, and consumed while sitting on one of the high stools at the bar. One urn of milk was kept very cold, with a thin film of ice flakes on the top. The Turner girls believed this made the best milk shakes which would froth up well. Café tables and chairs were also located in this area, as well as booths for groups of people.
Often during the week the doors of the Grill Bar would stay open until 1.30 am until the last of the picture theatre customers from the Regent and Civic Theatres had been served. Local policemen called in for a chat, and also to make sure that everything was quiet. In those days, the pubs closed at 10pm, and the police would make sure there were no inebriated customers to cause problems.
In 1968, the Grill Bar outgrew its old premises, which were knocked down and replaced with a modern brick building which still stands in Goondoon Street. At the time, Percy estimated that during the ten years he had been in business in the old California Grill Bar, about 800 000 hamburgers had been prepared. Laid edge to edge, these burgers would have stretched approximately from Gladstone to Mt Larcom.
The Easter period was the busiest time for the Turners, and often they stayed open for nearly 24 hours to feed the visiting yachtsmen who moored in Auckland Creek. Opening at 5.30 am, Percy would cook breakfast, with more staff coming in throughout the day. Staff was increased to about ten to twelve for the occasion, and the café stayed open until about 2 am the following day.
Locals have many fond memories of the California Grill Bar. Patsy Lee remembers going to the Grill Bar after a sing-along at the Grand Hotel. She said people would sit and talk until 1 o’clock in the morning, and be assured of a good supper of steak and onions, or one of Percy’s hamburgers to quell the hunger pangs. Patsy also recalls that Percy could break eggs onto the grill plate with one hand, a skill she is still attempting to perfect.
Percy Turner died in 1979, and his wife, Muriel, died in 2002. They are both buried in the Gladstone Cemetery.
Bev Hall and Lorelle Hogson (nee Turner) for their photographs and memories.
Gladstone Cemetery Records