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Past/Lives Flashback #5: The Hartee’s Saga, Part V: Hartee’s Revenge – Manly Vale, NSW

Original articles: The Hartee’s Saga Parts I, II, III and IV 

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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.

Hartee's Earlwood

Hartee’s Earlwood

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).

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Hartee’s Canterbury.

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.

Hartee's Punchbowl.

Hartee’s Punchbowl.

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.

Hartee's Bankstown.

Hartee’s Bankstown. Not pictured: the Pal delivery truck.

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.

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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.

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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.

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The original lights are still in place, designed to illuminate the Hartee’s name. Also still in place, as per Phil’s advice…

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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.

Hartee's Kogarah, November 1973. Image courtesy State Library of NSW.

Hartee’s Kogarah, November 1973. Image courtesy State Library of NSW.

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Dick Smith Powerhouse/Nothing – Bankstown, NSW

Welcome to my nightmare.

When I was a kid, growing up in a house that was developing rapidly from a tiny shag-carpeted fibre nightmare into a two-storey McMansion with cheese, the worst thing that could happen to you on a Saturday morning was being told “Get in the car, we’re going to HomeBase.” Suddenly, the Saturday that had held so much promise, that you’d worked all week at school to enjoy, was taken away from you, and replaced by a seemingly endless death march through IKEA.

Prospect’s HomeBase homemaker centre had been around since before 1982, when the IKEA opened. After that, the mindless rush to be a part of the Swedish furniture revolution put HomeBase on the map, and countless kids had their Saturday mornings ruined by the long drive out to the middle of nowhere just because the study would look better with a walnut bookshelf named ASCOT. The HomeBase centre’s other stores (yes, there were a few) surrounded IKEA, occasionally catching the eye of a customer as they left the furniture giant, but as a rule, IKEA was what you were there for. Clark Rubber wasn’t exactly a hot destination on weekends.

For the first few years, it wasn’t so bad. I was short enough to be allowed access to the ball room. Anyone who was a kid in the era of ball rooms will instantly know the thrills, the mayhem and the excitement of a ball room in a shopping centre. It was everywhere you wanted to be, because no matter how boring the prospect of a day traipsing around a shop looking for stuff you didn’t care about seemed, if there were facilities for kids you could instantly dump all your disappointment prep work from your internal cache and get stupid in the ball room.

Tragedy struck the Saturday I was suddenly too tall. The clown on the height restriction sign, my close friend for so many years, granting me private access to a wonderland, was instantly my enemy. His eyes, once alive with mischief at letting me into that private club, had turned cold and distant. “We don’t want you here,” his perma-smile seemed to say.

At this point I was faced with two options: brave the boredom of IKEA, or go to the entertainment room for older kids. It was a tough choice, but one easily made. I still wasn’t quite old enough to appreciate the challenge of a DIY entertainment unit, and as amusing as fake PROP brand computer screens were, they got old after the 1000000th bedroom mockup, so I was off to the big kids room. IKEA’s idea of entertainment for big kids involved a bunch of too-small stools stuffed into a tiny room. In the corner of the room was a mini-TV showing Superman: the Movie on a loop. Every single time I went to this room (and it was often – we had a lot of books to shelve), I was treated to either the Marlon Brando bit at the start, or the farm bit where Superman’s dad dies. Once, I even got to see the bit where Lex Luthor crushes the guy under the train – shockingly violent for a kid my height. Not once did I get to see Superman in action. This did nothing but affirm the film’s reputation as ‘a long one’ for me, because even though I knew how long a trip to IKEA could take, it was never as long as the buildup to Superman’s first appearance in the film. The movie and I have settled our differences since, but to this day I can’t watch it on a tiny TV.

The reason for this long anecdote is this: when it was deemed that our house contained enough IKEA furniture, the drive to Prospect suddenly seemed a bit too long, and further homemaker sorties were redirected to the much more local Christies Centre, on Canterbury Road at Bankstown. Long known as Dunlop Corner to locals (it was formerly the site of a Dunlop factory), the Christies homemaker centre had moved in sometime in the 80s or early 90s, and provided a bunch of lesser IKEA wannabes like Fantastic Furniture, a pottery barn, plenty of bedding shops, and my new enemy: Freedom Furniture. The Christies Centre became a new level of weekend hell, because unlike IKEA there was no kids play centre. No consideration for bored children was given anywhere on the grounds of the Christies Centre, and my attention was left to fall upon the dying, decrepit businesses that lined Canterbury Road.

Matters improved when the pottery barn was replaced by Hungry Jacks, but that can only hold one’s attention for so long. In 1996, Dick Smith Powerhouse made it to the Christies Centre. It was a breath of fresh air – suddenly there was a place that sold video games, computers, CDs, the first DVDs…even Superman: the Movie was available to buy here. Dick Smith had only recently moved away from being an electronic hobby shop to establishing a retail chain for consumer electronics, and the Powerhouse was a bold example. For many, it was the first place they were able to use the internet. The trial computers were all set up with dialup accounts, allowing customers to get a taste of the ‘information superhighway’ for the first time before making a purchase of a brand new Pentium. Suddenly, it didn’t matter how long the furniture pilgrimage was going to take, Dick Smith was the place to hang out and relieve that boredom. It was even better when I eventually had money.

These days, the Christies Centre name is long gone. It’s now Home Focus. Hungry Jacks is still enslaving teenagers, Freedom Furniture is still committing hate crimes against entertainment, bedding shops are still putting people to sleep for all the wrong reasons. There’s a new homemaker centre, Home Central, at the back of the place with a completely separate lineup of shops including a Toys R Us, which I’d’ve killed for on those initial endless Saturday mornings.

Dick Smith is gone. Only recently too, by the look of it. I went there yesterday hoping to buy a fuse, only to find the shop completely gone. When did this happen? I’d only gone there a few…months ago? Was it that long? The Dick Smith Powerhouse branding was apparently discontinued in 2009, immediately numbering the Bankstown store’s days. At the same time, Tandy electronic stores, acquired by Dick Smith, were phased out also. Remember Tandy? Everywhere when you weren’t looking for them, nowhere when you were. In January 2012, Dick Smith owner Woolworths closed 100 or so Dick Smith stores, apparently including the Bankstown Powerhouse, and announced that they were selling the chain. What a bunch of dicks.

So now, bored kids stuck at the Home Focus on an endless Saturday morning have only Hungry Jacks (or the distant Toys R Us) to entertain them. No wonder childhood obesity is such a problem. Of course, these days 4-year-olds have iPhones, so my heart isn’t exactly bleeding for them. It’s just a safe bet they didn’t get their iPhones or Nintendo DS from Dick Smith Powerhouse.

Out of the Blue Seafood Restaurant/Hertz – Bankstown, NSW

Your name is Bob Murphy, and the year is 1988.

You work an office job, you’re in sales. You do alright – enough to put food on the table for your wife and kids. And what delicious food it is, the wife’s always telling you. Especially your seafood. Let’s not be modest, Bob, you’ve had a way with prawns ever since your dad taught you how to peel a prawn by hand, even if it was just so he wouldn’t have to do it for you anymore. You picked it up straight away, and sure, you might get a cut or two every now and then, but they’re prickly little buggers at the best of times.

No one ever winds up spitting out bones when they eat your whiting, do they Bob? Not like that Mother’s Day at Doyles when your mum almost choked to death. Remember, you screamed for the manager, and your face went red! Your wife was a little bit scared that day, although she never told you. You have to learn to keep your temper in check, Bob. It’ll be the end of you.

Sales is a boring job when you’re the best. You’re so good that you wound up convincing HR to let you work from home, and your figures were too valuable to the company for them to say no. So you spend all your days fishing and cooking while occasionally stopping to rack up another few grand. How does it make you feel? Do you ever compare yourself to anyone bigger, or can’t you think of anyone? Remember that time you were bragging to your mates about it during that Saturday arvo barbecue, and Trev, the one who isn’t doing so well, went home sick? Did your wife ever tell you that Trev’s wife called to say he’d tried to top himself that night, or do you still think you gave him food poisoning? Not with your oysters, Bob. They’re too good.

You’ve always had that dream, though. You never let yourself really consider it until now, but every now and then you’d entertain the thought of running your own restaurant…just to see. Just to put the hard word on Doyles and the like, to say ‘we in the west can do it better than you’. Be a shame if you stuffed it up, though. You’d fall flat on your face. And they’re not as refined in the west, are they? Don’t appreciate a good lobster mornay as much as they do on the coast or down south? There are a lot of things to consider, Bob. If you’re gonna picture yourself in the chef’s hat, just make sure you take the time to think it all through.

Still got your eye on that spot on Canterbury Road? It’s not the most perfect location, is it? You drive past it whenever you’ve gotta go into the office or do a face to face with a client. It’s nice that you still give them a fish from time to time. Cute calling card. The Canterbury Road spot though…it’s risky. If you open too early, no one’ll be able to get a park because of all the trucks, and if you stay open too late you’ll attract the hookers and the tricks. Don’t you want it to be family friendly? Maybe if you do it up right, get the right colour…

1989

Cute name, Bob: ‘Out of the Blue’ Seafood Restaurant. And ‘into the red’ not long after, I’ll bet? Sorry, Bob, couldn’t resist…you’re really serious about this, aren’t you? Oh no, you shouldn’t quit your day job. You really shouldn’t. But if you’re going to make a proper go of this cooking thing, you might need the time. It’s called work from home, not work from work. ‘Out of the Blue’…you’re going to paint it blue?That shade of blue? Christ, it’ll look like a theme restaurant! This location really isn’t very good, you know. I hope it was cheap enough. Oh…that much, huh? You might make that back…give it a few years. No restaurant makes megabucks from the start, Bob, you must have known that. Did you do any research? That burger place that sold dog food was just up the road there, people might think it’s your place. Mud sticks…

Wow, you really went the whole hog, didn’t you Bob? A total nautical theme! You know how silly that thing looks, right? Yeah, yeah, it’s all a part of the gimmick. Are you gonna be wearing a sailor’s hat and a peg leg while you cook, too? I’m guessing you anchored this thing deep, what if it blows over? Hurricane-proof, huh? Nice.

I’ll be honest, Bob: that paint looks way less garish now that it’s actually on. You want to make sure it’ll last a while too, nothing worse than a half-assed job. You’ve spent all this money so far, you have to make sure you leave your mark on this place. Get the most out of that paint too, put it everywhere. You bought too much! You’ll never be out of this blue, so go nuts and slap it on everywhere. Don’t let ’em forget where they are.

Well, good luck with it mate. I’m allergic, so I won’t be eating there, but I’m sure you’ll do fine. All the guys at work miss you, even though you were never in the office. They miss having that hard target to match. Dudley’s the top dog now, and he’s nowhere. This place…it’s a little rough isn’t it? Good thing you got so much of that paint left, this graffiti’ll be easy to cover over. You know, now that that Dunlop factory up the road’s gone you might have a harder time getting people in here… Okay, okay! No need to raise your voice! I’m sure you’ll be fine, once they hear about how good your food is, you’ll be fine. You open soon, right? What’s left to do? Just the licence? Okay Bob, all the best. Let me know how it goes.

The Hartee’s Saga, Part IV: The Shocking Conclusion – Bankstown, NSW

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 Hartee’s at Bankstown, now a BottleMart, sits opposite Bob Jane T-Mart, and beside a KFC.

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.

The scene of the crime.

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.

Hartee’s Kogarah, November 1973. Now part of the St. George Hospital car park. Image by Jack Hickson/State Library of NSW.

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.