A newspaper (not this one) once made an error about Lorne’s Pier restaurant, and owner Spiro Gazis wants it cleared up.
“They wrote, ‘If you want a good fish and chips, you go to The Pier,” he remembers.
“But I’m not a fish and chip shop. You can’t take it away. I’m a restaurant.”
Looking around The Pier, with its walls covered with petrified driftwood and crustacean, a salty southerly blowing in off the ocean, it’s not hard to see what kind of restaurant Gazis is running.
“Look at my menu,” he says, gesturing to the blackboard over the bar. “I’ve got crayfish, I’ve got prawns, I’ve got 5-6 fish a day.
“I’ve got blue eye, rockling, Atlantic salmon, whiting – not many people have got whiting – and I’ve got meat – steak, veal. And this guy writes down I’ve got the best fish and chips!”
He says, despite the pictures of the Greek islands on the blue and white walls, there isn’t really a Hellenic influence in the way he cooks.
The best-selling dish, Gazis says, is rockling in foil with prawns and a special sauce.
But Gazis, who describes himself as “Lorne’s oldest bachelor”, isn’t too fussed about the newspaper’s mistake. He says people generally know what the seafood restaurant is about.
They know it’s been around a long time. Eighteen years, in fact, since Gazis left the Arab restaurant, just up the road.
They know it’s open for lunch and dinner all year round, he says. That’s no mean feat, in Lorne, where, during winter, you could throw rocks on the beach and hit nothing but seagulls. And, importantly, he says, people know Gazis will be there.
“It’s the full catastrophe today,” he shouts, dumping lattes on the tables where people sit doing accounts.
“The full catastrophe.”
We’re talking at the height of summer, and Gazis is preparing for another busy day.
He seems to have his finger in all the pies. Preparation, table service, accounts.
“I like to know what’s happening in everything,” he explains, rushing over to the kitchen to stir the spaghetti.
It’s clear that this is a man who enjoys working hard.
After arriving from Lefkada aged 12, he immediately started working in an Italian restaurant in Melbourne, and built a successful business there.
But one trip to Lorne convinced him his life was here, by the beach, where he’s been since 1973.
“I love the sea, I was born in the water,” he explains, the words gushing out of his mouth with the speed of the Surf Coast’s recent rain.
So he started working at the Arab restaurant, which was run by a mate of his. Initially he was working summers in Lorne, then winters at Mt Bulla.
Then he saw the town’s development take off and knew, if he worked hard, he could stay in Lorne all year round. So he bought the Arab (which he sold five years ago), and then saw potential in the run-down site at the start of the pier.
Over nearly 40 years in the coastal town, Gazis says he’s seen plenty of restaurants come and go.
“People think Lorne is a goldmine, but Lorne is only for 5-6 months,” he says.
“For the rest of the time, if you don’t work hard…” he trails off, looking around, presumably thinking of all the things that have to be done before the lunch rush.
“You see, I do all the work, I do all the preparation. That’s why I survive.”
Gazis, with his generous smile, is almost as much a fixture of the town as the iconic pier itself.
And he says the fact that people know him is another reason his business is thriving. “People, when they come to Lorne, I entertain them. I smile, I talk, and people love that. They’re laughing, they’re happy.”
“I’m not young, I’m old, but I act like a kid, and people love that,” he says. “Sometimes people don’t come for the food, they come for the entertainment.”
As long as people don’t come expecting take-away fish and chips, Gazis will give the people what they want, he calls, rushing into the kitchen to stir the spaghetti. Again.
The Pier restaurant is open for lunch and dinner every day (except Christmas). Telephone: (03) 5289 1119