Owner of Red Grapevine & The Coughing Gherkin shares all things food.
How long have you owned Red Grapevine?
My husband and I moved to Armidale from Sydney in 2004 to start Red Grapevine and are now in our seventh year of trading.
Describe your menu.
Our food is modern Italian, with an emphasis on simple, rustic and fresh flavours. There is a variety of entrees, mains and home-made desserts, but we also offer a large range of pizza and pasta. My partner Brian is a dough enthusiast and makes pizza dough and fresh ciabatta every day for both our restaurants.
On the bar side, we have tried to combine my experience of making cocktails in Sydney with Brian’s passion for the wines of regional NSW.
You’ve just started The Coughing Gherkin in the East Mall. Why have you opened a second restaurant in Armidale?
Armidale is a great town for business, and we now have an extensive and loyal customer base. We felt there was an opportunity for a ‘baby sister’ restaurant to Grapevine, with the same standard of food and service, but in a more casual environment – designed with an emphasis on variety and sharing.
We have always wanted to run a Tapas Bar, but took the opportunity to combine this with Mexican food and a slightly more eclectic range of pizza. It goes without saying that cocktails and wine are also a big part of what we do here as well.
Where did the name ‘The Coughing Gherkin’ come from?
This was something our 4-year-old came out with when we were playing a game. We thought it was hilarious, but as a name we also thought it was funky, unusual and memorable – which is exactly what we are attempting to create with the new restaurant. So we borrowed the name from him!
How important is the ambience of your restaurants?
Very. Both of us learnt hospitality in Sydney, where the pace of restaurants is very fast and furious. We love the fact that in Armidale people like to spend an entire evening in a restaurant, and we’ve tried very hard with both of our places to design an atmosphere where this is possible.
Tell us about your chef.
The restaurants aren’t really run by one chef, but by a whole team! Both of us are qualified. While I work mainly on the menu design, food presentation and styling, Brian, who’s had nearly 17 years’ experience as a chef and manager, oversees the operation of both kitchens.
At Red Grapevine we are lucky to have Peter Ireland as our head chef, who had extensive à la carte experience before joining us almost 3 years ago. We are also thrilled that Emma Rekunow (who did her apprenticeship at Red Grapevine from 2005-2008) has returned to Armidale and is running The Coughing Gherkin kitchen. We also employ a team of committed, talented apprentices and school-based trainees.
How do you manage with two businesses; where do you spend most of your time?
It can be a bit of a juggle, but luckily the restaurants are only 3 blocks away from each other (that’s the beauty of living in Armidale). We also have an awesome front of house team. Rose Lee, who has extensive experience of both Italian and Mexican restaurants from her home in California, runs the Grapevine front of house. This has helped us focus on The Gherkin, with the input of Mitch Thomas and his cocktail and service experience.
We swap around as much as we can, but you’re sure to find us both in one place or the other!
Thank you Natalie.