A burger…master. Mayor McCheese, I presume?
As we’ve discussed many times before, milk bars are dinosaurs: fondly remembered, but when they turn up in the wild they’re completely fossilised. Is Canterbury Road, Canterbury’s Burgermaster any different?
No. A look inside shows the sad, decrepit remains of what was once a kitchen where dreams were made and hunger was satisfied. And it’s actively rotting. Take a look at the same view just five years ago.
But what’s most interesting about this place, particularly from a visual standpoint, are the cigarette ads plastered all over the shopfront. They built these things to last:
As a product, Borkum Riff first appeared in the 60s, and judging by the depiction of the guy here, so did this ad.
In 1992, the Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Act came into effect in Australia, by which point cigarette advertising on TV, radio and local print media had already been banned. By 1995, familiar phrases like “Fresh is Alpine”, “You’re laughing!” and the ubiquitous “…anyhow, have a Winfield” had been completely erased from the cultural landscape, and nobody ever smoked again.
Perhaps aware that the end was nigh, these tobacco companies invested in some heavy duty glue for their final bombardment.
In the case of Port Royal, a heavy duty moustache was also necessary to seal the deal. Doubtless this heroic mo has inspired thousands to roll their own in the years since.
…anyhow, the thought of the combined taste of burgers, milkshakes and Winnie greens is absolutely doing it for me, and since we won’t be getting any here, it’s time to head off. There’s gotta be something open along here somewhere…
How common a sight is this? Even if we’re not living in the golden age of the take-away shop (and we really aren’t), you still can’t seem to swing a dead focaccia in Sydney’s suburbs without hitting one of these, or an ex-one of these.
For those readers too young (pfft, yeah right) to remember, let me take you back for a moment. In my day, you could go to these places called milk bars or take-aways, which were usually plastered in Coca-Cola advertising. Not Pepsi…never Pepsi.
They’d make hot food and keep it in these giant contraptions called bain maries, which made it impossible to tell how long it’d been there. Crucially, they were also trojan horses into the then-fledgeling world of ethnic food: Australians not open minded enough to actually go to a Greek restaurant might still have a souvlaki at their local take-away. Ingenious, really.
This particular take-away seems to have spent most of its early years as a residential property before taking the plunge into the deep-fry. The kind of fatty junk sold here probably filled the stomachs of the blue-collar workers who once populated the area, or the staff and patients of Callan Park Mental Hospital which is just across the road, but as times and tastes changed it was out with the milkshakes and schnitzels (mmm, together at last), and in with the coffee and rolls.
But let’s go back even earlier, shall we, to a time before deep fried food clogged Australia’s arteries…
You’d better believe Mrs. Cutting wasn’t serving up dim sims and Chiko rolls to her 50 guests. I wonder if Dubbo’s local papers still herald the homecoming of any travelling Dubbogan (Dubsider? Dubbocastrian?)
The celebrations didn’t last long, because by 1943 the Cuttings had cut loose, and the jocks were in.
As you can see, Mr. John Smith (dynamic name, no wonder he became Jock) lived right here in the mid-1940s while working as a labourer. SEE? I WASN’T MAKING ALL THAT UP ABOUT IT BEING BLUE COLLAR!
Ahem. But once Jock’s labours were over, business became a little…mixed. A dynasty that would last over six decades began here for a measly 1500 pounds. I wonder if the take-away was making 140 pounds a week?
As recently as last year, the newly minted Rozelle Coffee Lounge was still feeding the locals, but in a much harsher, more competitive environment. Go to Rozelle today and there are gourmet cafes on every corner, so the more meat-and-potatoes establishments face an uphill battle, and that’s probably why the Coffee Lounge isn’t around today.
As the suburb has become gentrified and all the blue collars have turned to ironic skivvies, there’s no longer any call for a place like this. The Coffee Lounge knew it, as it’s currently under construction, presumably transforming into something more suitable to today’s clientele.
I don’t know about you, but I’ll always find those Coca-Cola takeaways suitable. There’s something really…comforting about them. If you drive into a country town and things are looking unfamiliar and unsettling in a Deliverance kind of way, a place like this is all you need to soften the sound of the banjos.
Sometimes it’s hard to keep a good burger down. For those who haven’t followed the long, sad story of the Hartee’s hamburger franchise, here’s a quick recap.
With the advent of American fast food franchises in Australia in the late 60s and early 70s, Kelloggs teamed with the US-based Hardees burger chain to start Hartee’s, the first Australian fast food restaurant (despite its very red white and blue beginnings).
It was a near-instant success. Whether it was down to underlying xenophobia towards overseas brand names, smart management or just plain delicious burgers, by 1973 Hartee’s was king of the fast food hill in Australia.
Complacency became the daily special from then on, with a series of extravagant HQ upgrades and new outlets sprouting like weeds all over Sydney. Despite this, the chain was beginning to haemorrhage cash at a pretty severe rate, and McDonald’s was aggressively making major headway into the Australian scene. Something had to give.
And give it did, here at the Bankstown Hartee’s in 1975, when a current affairs program, acting on a tip-off, exposed the outlet as having served dog food in burgers. Overnight, Hartee’s packed up and disappeared, leaving only husks behind, and that’s where the story seems to end.
Except thanks to reader Phil, there’s a final piece of the puzzle to be put in place. I’d previously written that only the four former Hartee’s above still existed in any form around Sydney… Well, we all make mistakes. Just ask Bankstown Hartee’s.
Behold, the Manly Vale Hartee’s still stands. It’s currently Gilmour’s Comfort Shoes, but it pretty obviously fits in with the Hartee design.
In fact, this may be the most well-preserved Hartee’s still in existence. The Gilmour’s sign appears to be stuck on over the red roof, so it’s possible the Hartee’s logo remains underneath.
The original lights are still in place, designed to illuminate the Hartee’s name. Also still in place, as per Phil’s advice…
The original outdoor seating area! Now it’s presumably the shoe shop manager’s car park (c’mon, look at the prestige offered by that strange piece of land). Inside are just shoes, but really, they’ve served worse and called it burgers.
It’s not really a happy ending, or an ending at all, but it is (I’m guessing) the final footnote on what by now must be the most definitive account of the Hartee’s affair out there. There are still many mysteries surrounding the story (truly, more questions are raised than answered), but maybe one day one of those faceless, guilt-ridden Hartee’s executives will come out of hiding and reveal more. Hell, I’d even settle for the guy who served the dog food. As ever, if you know more, please let Past/Lives know. And RIP Hartee’s – we hartlee knew ye.
In the meantime, let’s take a minute to remember those four powerful words that watered more mouths than Mount Franklin, that were a city’s guilty pleasure in a time before Big Macs and Whoppers…in a time when a nation could feed itself.
Let’s go back to the early 1990s, when someone had a bright idea: ‘How about a series of 50s-style Americana-filled burger restaurants…in Sydney!’ If that sounds stupid, that’s because it is. Hungry Jacks had been trying for years to evoke thatHappy Days flavour, but it just wasn’t washing with the Whopper-eating public. HJ has quietly phased out the Americana over the last ten years, but it’s not uncommon to walk in and find pictures of Elvis and Marilyn adorning the walls, a jukebox in the corner and fries so stale they could only be from 1958. The mastermind behind Route 66 had clearly decided that HJ wasn’t going far enough, and launched the above restaurant at Revesby around 1994. It wasn’t some Mickey Mouse venture, either – there were TV ads imploring hungry viewers to ‘get their kicks’. Within the impressively chromed exterior, girls in miniskirts served up grilled burgers, fries and shakes to patrons amid 50s tunes and checkered floors, while outside the owners hoped to recreate the burger joint atmosphere by providing plenty of parking and a drive-thru service. By all accounts the burgers weren’t bad, but one of the many mistakes the owners made was setting up shop across the road from an infinitely more accessible McDonald’s. Route 66 sits along Canterbury Road, with customers forced to enter and exit via the busy thoroughfare. The customers didn’t take long to work out that it was easier to get into the McDonald’s, and by 2000 the Route 66 dream was over. There were a few Route 66 locations beside this one, but I’m not sure whether they were all part of the same franchise or not. Prestons featured a notorious Route 66 for many years, where hoons really did congregate en masse, much to residents’ discontent.
After Route 66 bit the dust, the site played host to a variety of Lebanese restaurants, all forced to wear the chrome. Today, the chrome is as shiny as ever outside Hadla Ice Confectionery. All of the post-Route 66 ventures to inhabit the place tried and failed to disguise the 50s decor (Hadla’s come the closest), but if you didn’t remember what it was, you probably wouldn’t question it. The only real evidence that Route 66 was ever here is the drive-thru…
…which is now closed off, and has been cleverly converted into an outdoorish seating area for Hadla customers. It’s still chromed up to the max, and gives you a clear idea of what Route 66’s drive-thru customers must have endured in the restaurant’s tireless efforts to send you back to 1955 (maybe they should have had an 88mph speed limit for the drive-thru?). Seeing places like this always makes me wonder about the people who would have worked there – young girls and guys paying their way through uni or getting some extra cash to save up for a car while in high school. I wonder if they look back on their days at Route 66 fondly, or whether those few months or years have been wiped from the resume. I wonder what the owners are doing now, how they must have felt when the writing was on the wall, and if they ever drive past and think about the happy days. The quest to inspire nostalgia in others has become nostalgia in itself.
If you have any stories to share about this place, I’d be fascinated to hear them.
Continued from Part III…
In mid-1975, Willesee, a current affairs program on Channel 7, received a tip-off from Bankstown Council garbagemen that a hamburger restaurant at Bankstown had, on a regular basis, some very odd items in its dumpsters out the back. When reporters from the program went down to the Bankstown Hartee’s to investigate, they found that the bins outside were full of dog food cans. Further investigation revealed that the dog food was in fact being sliced into patties and used on the burgers at this particular location:
The devastating report went to air, cripping the Hartee’s brand in the public eye. Despite there being no evidence that such a practice went on in other Hartee’s locations, Kelloggs quickly and quietly abandoned its fast food venture. No official comment was given other than a generic ‘the venture was no longer profitable’ statement.
Almost overnight, all Hartee’s locations were closed and sold. Today, almost nothing remains of the Hartee’s legacy except the stores documented in this series. The Bankstown location subsequently became a Chinese restaurant and a variety of bottle shops. Other locations, such as Hartee’s Liverpool, Manly Vale and Kogarah, have since been demolished.
As previously mentioned, Kelloggs planned to open more than 100 locations around the country, but only 17 were ever opened. It wasn’t until Red Rooster, and even more successfully, Oporto, that an Australian-owned fast food brand managed to establish itself.
Had the scandal not occurred, Hartee’s may have emerged as the primary fast food outlet in Australia today instead of fading into obscurity, but thanks to the actions of some goofballs on minimum wage, it’s a world we’ll never know.
HEARTY UPDATE: There’s more. Always can do one more.