51 The Esplanade, Surfers Paradise, Ph: 07 5526 9994
If there was a dining ‘Hall of Fame’ on the Gold Coast, then Jo-Anne and Greg Short would be among the first to be inducted.
It’s twenty years since the couple opened the Broadwalk Café, the forerunner of today’s Sandbar, the iconic café which delivers some of the best views of Surfers Esplanade.
Migrating from NSW with their young family, the couple were excited to start their own new venture in the famous tourist town.
“We had a passion to bring good food to the area, to be proud of it,” says Jo, who had previously worked in both silver service and on cruise ships.
It was a very different dining scene back twenty years ago, with main dishes of calamari, pizza and pasta.
“We started with half a dozen beers, the cocktails of the day being Brandy Alexander, Pina Colada and Fluffy Duck,” Jo tells us, laughing.
Jo and Greg’s three children (Jake, Liah and Casey), who all work in the restaurant today, grew up in the famous beachside café. Beginning with a step-down bar and coffee machine, plastic table and chairs, booths and kids’ games, it was a far cry from today’s sophisticated venue, and a very different Surfers Paradise dining scene now compared to when the Shorts’ restaurant first opened.
“We’ve seen a lot of changes in our two decades in Surfers,” says Jo, adding that today’s diners place a far stronger emphasis on quality fresh food, on-point cocktails, craft beer, organic wine and stand out coffee. Economic viability and waste factors also played a part in the decision to update the restaurant.
With that in mind, Sandbar was relaunched in late 2016 as a more contemporary venue catering for up to 300 people, with on-trend food and service topped off with a great view.
With new menus crafted by Executive Chef Maxie Hill, a protégé of celebrity chef Rick Stein, there’s an emphasis on health-focused inclusive modern menus: brekkie bowls, favourites of smashed avo, pulled pork benes, local steaks and gourmet burgers, maintaining a beachside feel with grilled salmon, poke bowls (Sandbar was the first to introduce these on the coast), trawler-caught seafood and the all-time favourite, fish and chips.
On our visit we feasted upon the restaurant’s most popular burger, the Royale with Cheese ($17), Jo’s Proper Fish and Chips ($25), a giant slab of snapper served with rustic chips, house-made tartare and mushy peas, the Kauai poke bowl ($16), absolutely brimming with fresh tuna, and our personal favourite the King Prawns ($29), an unexpected combination of grilled prawns with sweet chilli garlic sauce, rice, corn fritters and guacamole that had our tastebuds singing.
The portion sizes impressed, particularly when taking into account the location and prices, and we highly recommend one (or three!) of Sandbar’s Infamous Coconut Margaritas to round off your meal.
When asked what it takes to survive twenty years of change in the industry, Jo explains the necessary qualities: resilience, patience, being adaptable to change, being hard working, having the knowledge and doing the research and reading necessary to meet the market and cater for everyone.
“It takes a very special person to be in hospitality,” she says.
She’s rightly proud of the family’s two decades of service to guests in Surfers Paradise.
“Our family and our team (who have a combined work experience of more than 500 years between them), have added a significant contribution to the city in both economic and tourism terms and, as locals, we’re very proud of that achievement.”
“We established Sandbar with the tagline ‘Good times. All the time’, and our plan is to keep on providing a place for simple daily enjoyment; to make memories and create good times for another 20 years to come.”
Interview and story by Marj Osborne
Food review by Natalie O’Driscoll