Life & Style

The man behind King Street's Italian deli

It’s that time again when we take you behind the scenes with our favourite local business owners and creatives to find out where they go to eat, what playlist they’re listening to, where they take their out-of-town friends, and ultimately, what makes them tick.

For our 8th instalment of SPILL, we're catching up with the sandwich genius behind King Street's Arno Deli, Will O'Brien.

spill will o'brien arno deli newcastle
Will O'Brien

Firstly, what and where would people across Newcastle recognise you from?

I own Arno Deli on King Street – we sell panini, Italian salumi, wine, and cheese.

Where are you from originally?

I grew up in Sydney’s eastern suburbs and started my chef apprenticeship at Rockpool before moving to Merivale.

What made you decide to make Newcastle home?

My wife’s family lives up here, and when we returned from a six-month Europe trip she wanted to do her Masters at University of Newcastle. I landed a job as head chef of The Landing when it was still owned by the Margan and Burford families. I fell in love with Newcastle and wanted to stay here. We moved back to Sydney for a few years after Bri finished her degree and were just waiting for the right time to move back and start a family.

Do you consider yourself more of an early bird or a night owl?

I’m usually at work pretty early so don’t get much time before that. I’d say given the choice that I'm more of a night owl.

Where’s your late-night hangout spot?

I don’t get out anywhere near as much as I’d like to but I love Flotilla and Vecina, Humbug, or a steak at The Prince.

What’s your coffee order?

A double ristretto piccolo latte.

Speaking of coffee, which local venue knows your order off by heart?

I pretty much only drink coffee at Arno as I’m usually working – otherwise I do like the coffee at New Nero in Cardiff.

Tell me about your biggest career highlight…

Probably opening Arno. I’ve been a chef working for other people for 21 years, so to have our own venue so well received in Newcastle has been pretty special. We have some amazing loyal customers and it’s so nice to be a part of this community.

In your spare time, what are your THREE top favourite things to do in Newcastle?

Take our 3 year old to Blackbutt Reserve or Speers Point park, eat at one of our favourite restaurants that I've mentioned above, and head to the beach – Redhead with our dogs, and Naru or Lambton Pool with the family.

If you wanted to dazzle your out-of-town friends and family, where would you take them?

Flotilla. The food has always been great but I think the attention to detail from the front of house team is second to none. It just keeps on going from strength to strength.

Beer? Wine? Cocktail? Mocktail? What is your tipple of choice and where do you frequently visit?

Definitely wine, I’m lucky to have some close friends who are also very passionate about wine and we’re able to catch up and drink some great wine together (shout out to the Wine Geeks group chat). If I’m purchasing wine locally I’ll always go to Vera Wine, Josh and Florence have been such a wonderful addition to the Newcastle wine scene. They are incredibly knowledgeable and have always been able to steer me to something delicious.

On the daily, what’s guaranteed to make you smile?

Seeing my son when I finish work or having him come into the shop with my wife Bri on a Saturday.

What do you NEVER leave the house without?

Sunglasses and a hat, Irish heritage isn’t great for Newcastle weather!

We’re all about keeping it local here at HUNTERhunter – tell me THREE of your favourite local businesses that you live and breathe by and why you couldn’t live without them…

As above really! Flotilla, Humbug, and Vera Wine are my go-tos.

What are you reading / watching / listening to now?

I just finished watching The Wire again. I’ll watch it every few years. It's some of the best TV ever made along with The Sopranos.

If you’re needing a short break away from Newcastle, where do you go and why?

Mollymook, my mum lives down there. There's lots of great food down there now as well!

What’s your go-to playlist?

90s and early 00s hip hop.

What would you like to see more of in Newcastle?

More small, independently-owned food and wine venues. Newcastle has come a long way in the 15 years since I first visited. Hopefully it keeps going from strength to strength.

Lucky last – who would you recommend we interview next for SPILL?

Tim Montgomery from The Prince and Rascal (and Bacchus) – the most talented chef in Newcastle. I still remember most of the courses I had at Bacchus in 2013.