Memories from the last three decades are being recalled this week as the Harrison family and many former staff and diners celebrate The Lagoon Seafood Restaurant’s 30th anniversary.
George and Vania Harrison and their children Andrew Harrison and Jonni Nicolaou have spent months preparing to mark the occasion on Thursday.
Close to 500 people have booked for a gala dinner that will include the launch of a book called Signature Dishes featuring the secret recipes behind many of the most popular dishes.
Mrs Harrison had been a primary teacher at Koonawarra for many years but was a stay-at-home mum with two young children when her husband, a lawyer, decided the family should open a restaurant similar to what was available on the waterfront at places such as Watsons Bay.
She said there was a tender put out by council and Mr Harrison spoke to chef Nick Manias and decided to put one in.
“The kids were five and six years old. We really opened with a bang because there was so much anticipation about this place opening.” “Because it was so controversial. Our intention was for a world class restaurant,” she said.
Some of the other tenders were for a Devonshire tea style cafe and there was some opposition for what the Harrison family wanted to do.
But they succeeded and 30 years later there are still staff at Lagoon Seafood Restaurant who were there at the very beginning.
They include waiting staff such as Joanne Hauser, whose photo is in the original menu, and Sammy Lai and Emmanuel Efstathiadis, in the kitchen.
The following years saw Andrew and Jonni spend considerable time in the restaurant with their parents. And while they went off and did other things in sports management, tourism and marketing in Sydney.
The taste they got for the restaurant industry and the love they have for Wollongong eventually lured them back home.
“I wanted to become like Jerry Maguire,” Andrew said.
“I worked for the NSW Sports Federation and then I did some work for…
Anthony Mundine’s manager. But I came back to Wollongong because it is so beautiful and it is the best place to bring up a family. We are lucky we (our family) have a business we can all work in locally.”
Jonni said she was doing marketing for Centrepoint Tower in Sydney “and then a took a marketing role for the Sydney Olympics. So I worked in tourism”.
Mrs Harrison said it was wonderful that her children had become involved in the family business.
“We never expected them to,” she said.
“They went and did their degrees and went out into the real world and got jobs and then decided to come back here.
Looking back Mrs Harrison said she had never thought about running a restaurant growing up and it was not something anyone on the family had done before. But she is glad they decided to give it a go.
“It was totally completely new. But when it happened it just took off. The business just flew,” she said.
Mr Harrison said what gave him the idea was he previously had thought about opening a club similar to the Fraternity Club.
He too said it was never his plan to bring their children into the business. But he is so happy they decided to and were now doing such a great job as managers in what is a fairly tough industry where you have to set and maintain a high standard to survive.
Andrew and Jonni regularly bring their own children into the restaurant and while they do not know what the future holds for them. And will let them make their own career choices. They will welcome them into the family business if that is what they want to do.
Andrew said the high point for him was the Lagoon being named the overall winner of Australia’s Favourite Restaurant in the 2014 I Love Food Awards. It still holds that title in the bi-annual people’s choice awards.
And the low point was when the original restaurant burnt down in January, 2001.
But Andrew used that time to travel overseas and live in Ireland where he worked in Dublin.
“I served David Beckham once and Bono. It was one of the best restaurants in Dublin. It was great experience over there,” he said.
Andrew ended up running the restaurant which helped prepare him for his role as restaurant manager at the new Lagoon Seafood Restaurant when it opened in September 2004.
Jonni returned as the marketing manager for the Lagoon as well as Seacliff Restaurant/Function Centre when it opened.
The family believes the number of people they have employed permanently and casually over the last three decades would number thousands. And many of them are coming to the gala dinner on Thursday.
“And groups of people who used to come here years ago have all got together again and booked a table even though they don’t live in Wollongong any more,” Andrew said.
The family believes it will be a night of reliving memories for generations of people. Among some of the families who have booked are people who had their own christening function at the Lagoon, then come back for their 21st and later their wedding reception and anniversaries.
Entertainment on Thursday night includes Shannon Noll and Paul Martell.