The Gunshop Café’s ever changing menu has been a hit with customers and critics alike since Jason Coolen and his wife Karen Crawford took over five and a half years ago.
The couple, who are both chefs, met while working for UK celebrity chef Rick Stein in Cornwall. Jason describes the experience as good, but intense. “Especially in those early days with him. He was just starting to be a celebrity chef back then. When you work in those big restaurants you do 80 hours a week. It’s educational. He’s produce driven like us. It was good.”
Returning to Australia, they worked at a variety of restaurants in Brisbane and Sydney, before buying The Gunshop Café. They’ve changed the dining style, added a large courtyard at the back and upgraded the kitchen, but are keen to maintain the building’s heritage features. “It was actually two buildings,” says Jason. “The dining room is where Michael Innis, the clothes guy, used to live. That was back in the 1920s I believe, so it was originally a tailors. The other part of the building became a locksmith for many years and then it became a gun shop from 1953 or ‘54 I think, to 1997.” Jason says they still get plenty of customers who remember the building’s last incarnation. “We get some weirdos who think we sell guns still, to people saying, ‘I used to come here and bought guns many years ago and now I’m eating here’. We get a lot of people telling their stories. When we had the flood, we ripped the floorboards up and we found old horseshoes under there, old locks, bullets, casings; so there’s a bit of background here.”
Looking to the future, Jason’s aim is for the restaurant to be fully carbon neutral. They’re already moving in that direction. “The courtyard is all recycled timber from old bridges to old pylons, we have a 7000 litre water tank that feeds the toilets; we have two compost bins; we have a vertical herb garden with over 200 herbs; we’re going to try and get some solar panels on the roof. “We’re trying to be one of the first totally green restaurants.”
The Gunshop Café has won so many awards that it’s hard to keep track. They were named delicious. magazine’s ‘Best Café in Australia’ in 2010. They’ve won ‘Best Breakfast’ at the Restaurant and Catering Awards multiple times, and were listed as one of the 100 Greatest Australian Gourmet Experiences by the Australian Traveller Magazine. “We don’t chase it. They give it to us,” says Jason. “For me, it’s a sign that the public are enjoying this place.
The delicious. magazine was voted by the public, which is number one for us. It shows they enjoy the food, they enjoy the staff … so that’s the best recognition, by the public, not some judge … we always keep it fun, real, that’s what we want. We don’t want to be pretentious.”
Words by Leah Carri | Images by Darlia Argyris