The Central Coast's Northern Star
Have you heard the one where a teacher, bank manager and arborist walk into a bar? Well it’s a restaurant too and they own the place.
Some may think these guys were comedians when they pushed through with the idea in January to finally open that place they have always spoken about, just as the hospitality industry was about to hit a major stumbling block.
There is nothing funny about Johnny Tapas, it was hard work and determination to open the doors in March. The owners Justin Black, Ryan Barron & Mel Roberts are still holding down fulltime jobs and getting the restaurant rolling.
You may wonder why they are so passionate about creating Johnny Tapas in Norah Head? We start our chat sitting in the wide windows, allowing in the natural light and giving glimpses of just how close it is to the beach. Ryan begins explaining,
“We grew up around the area and it lacks a bit when it comes to dining venues and we complained about it and then started tossing up the idea of creating the culture instead of complaining about it”.
He and Mel continue to explain they have been “considering over the last couple of years about what we would like open, we heard about the venue being vacant whilst out celebrating Australia Day and the next day we just did it”.
The venue is layered with personal touches, thoughtful detail and Instagram-able content!
Local artist Grant Molony has created intricate layers within Johnny Tapas. The first of Grant’s pieces is street side - a portrait of Mel and Justin’s son who greets you as you approach the venue; you can’t help but smile as the playful toddler grins above you.
On entry Grant has a detailed portrait of Raquel Welch from the movie One Million Years BC; this speaks to the aspiration of Johnny Tapas “it was a ground-breaking role; she paved the way for women and changed a culture whilst only having three lines of dialogue”.
The owners want to take that attitude and break through the “insular culture the northern end of the coast has, we wanted to do something different and give the northern end a place to go, a place this area deserves” Ryan explains.
When I ask about the lyrics (Ocean Alley) “It’s all about Confidence Baby” Mel recalls that was their song in pre-opening and she is honest in that they had to have the confidence to pull this off.
When I asked about the design decisions there’s a group giggle and Justin outlines the policy “It’s a majority rules – if someone wanted something you had to coerce someone to your side to get it”. This light hearted approached works for them and everything has come together. He also had a hand in making the spotted gum floating shelves that hang behind the bar.
On these custom-made shelves you will find some quality liquor with Moore's Gin (Distillery Botanica) being front and centre and executed in some outstanding cocktails. The balance of flavours and creativity deliver Instagram worthy content that is impressive – nearly as impressive as the Liam’s (the bar manager) knowledge about his wine list, use of ingredients and what he wants the guest to be experiencing with the cocktails.
This is a perfect complement to a kitchen team led by Chef Sid who was given creative freedom when creating his tapas and pizza menu.
Let’s begin with the House-Smoked Lamb Rump with Honey Glazed Carrots, Cumin Paste and Red Wine Jus or the 16-hour Slow Cooked Brisket Tostadas with Horseradish Cream and Pico-di-gallo. The very popular side dish has been “The Cauliflower – chef’s secret recipe” with customers attempting to guess the spices he is using.
Beer, Pizza and Tacos more your style? Then you need to try Roasted Capsicum, Butternut Pumpkin, Red Onion, Rocket, Feta & Salsa Verde and the Crispy Tempura Prawn with Pickled Ginger, Slaw and Wasabi Mayo Taco. The traditional Ham and Pineapple, Supreme and Pepperoni Pizzas are on the menu too in case you aren’t feeling overly adventurous.
Another unique feature for the northern end of the Central Coast is that Johnny Tapas is one of few places serving tap beer “we wanted it to be a point of difference as not many places offer it; we have two craft beers – Six Strings and Stone & Wood” Ryan adds.
They want to give the local area something to do so they have fun themed trivia nights (prizes for best dressed), live music from local artists and a relaxed atmosphere that makes everyone feel welcome – they have already hosted events from an 18th to a 60th, with a wedding being booked recently!
There is a do-good feel-good ethic here and it’s felt in the community, be it the fundraising night for the Westpac Helicopter or the 50 meals a month they donate to less fortunate homes and families with Chef Sid giving up his day off to make it happen.
Mel talks about how “the three of them have always had to hustle and work hard for what we have so it feels good to do nice things for people and give back to the community”. Ryan supports Mel’s community-mindedness.
“It was never about ego owning a restaurant. A restaurant is a lot of hard work, we’ve done it for the Norah Head community, this area is beautiful and we now have created somewhere to go, enjoy it and let it all sink in”.
And that they have - a fun venue, producing amazing cocktails and food in a scenically beautiful area of the Central Coast.