We chatted with Nick and Meagan Gregorski from The Port Office Hotel about reopening after a fire that started in the kitchen took out the restaurant, and saw them closed for seven months:
Tell us about The Port Office Hotel
It’s a beautiful Heritage listed hotel in the River Quarter of Brisbane’s CBD, within close proximity to the Botanic Gardens and the Brisbane River Walk. Positioned on the corner of Margaret and Edward Streets the Hotel is made up of three main bars spread across two floors; the top floor houses a spectacular plantation style cocktail bar, primarily used as event and function space and boasts a quintessential Queensland style wraparound veranda on two sides. On the street level, the Front Bar has been renovated to mirror an old school style public bar which is the cornerstone of the hotel and offers an unpretentious space to gather, meet, mingle and catch up with mates over a cold one… or two.
The restaurant, simply called the Port Office Dining Room, also located on ground level, has recently been completely rebuilt due to a kitchen fire in January this year – so the colour palette and decor is fresh and new with hints of old-world charm. The focus of the restaurant is simple food done well, with a few unexpected welcome variations.
What motivated you to first take over The Port Office Hotel?
We just loved its heritage and charm and felt it was the right fit for us.
Pub life seems to be a big part of your family history. How far back does it go?
Nick grew up in the Grandview Hotel in Bowen and last year (before they sold it) it had been in his family for 99 years. Nick’s parents Ted and Donna Gregorski, owned several other hotels throughout Australia including the Queens Arms and the Red Brick Hotels in Brisbane in the Nineties. He is fifth generation Publican – so being a Publican is definitely in his blood.
Meagan’s Great Grandfather was a Publican, he owned the Ravenswood Pub and the Strand Hotel in Cairns. Her Grandmother used to talk for hours about life as a Publican’s daughter with many a tall tale shared at family gatherings. Growing up in Brisbane Meagan first cut her teeth in the industry working at Friday’s Riverside back in the ’80s.
The fire must have been tough, what got you through this period?
I think we are pretty positive people but it did test us. A belief and support of each other and probably a thought that we are life publicans and this is what we do and love. Hopefully, it was just a speed bump.
Tell us about The Front Bar Army
It’s quite funny because when Meagan was initially talking about our group of regular customers, she made reference to them being willing and able to pitch in and help with the clean up after the fire (similar to the thousands of people that volunteered to assist those in need during the floods of 2011), and it kinda just went from there. There is no real Front Bar Army to speak of, just a large group of regulars that keep the business going and even when the chips were down they were always calling and messaging to see how progress on the pub was taking shape, so we’re grateful to them for their tenacity and loyalty.
What are some of your most popular dishes?
Steak is always popular – ours comes with the sides and the sauce included and it’s some of the best beef you can get anywhere in the world. We also have a Moreton Bay Bug dish on Tortilla chips with chipotle mayo that is crazy good. Our Chicken from the Rotisserie is probably our best-seller, it’s always so moist and tasty.
Can you describe a typical day?
Most mornings start with checking the bookings and planning the day, followed by meetings, placing orders, scheduling functions, checking opening procedures and prep of the bars and restaurant all before 11 am and then we look forward to welcoming new guests for our lunch trade. Wine reps call in from time to time so tastings are done regularly and there’s always someone exciting to catch up with and chat to.
What are three foods you can’t live without?
Nick – Beef, Chilli and Grapes (Wine)
Meagan – Chicken, pepper, sugarcane (Bundy Rum)
What do you love most about what you do?
The people, the interaction with such diverse but lovely people that come into our lives through the pub. We love putting a smile on their face whether it’s with great service, food or one of Nick’s stupid stories
Who or what inspires you?
Others in the industry; we’re always researching and following the movements of our peers, both here in Brisbane and other cities around the world. It’s important to see what’s trending and what/how/why it may or may not work for us.
Do you have any predictions for the food industry?
Nick – I believe that there will be an upswing in more vegetarian products but I still believe the old favourites will still hum along because it gives a sense of place and memories. They are classics for a reason.
Meagan – we see a lot more dietary requirements coming through for functions these days, at a recent wedding we had over 35 dietary requirements to cater for… I feel there will be a lot more gluten-free and vegan options to be explored in the near future.
Do you have any plans for the future?
We believe that what we do here we will keep doing, great service with a welcome smile and doing simple food really well. We are passionate about food and wine and I think this shows through in our pub’s menus and feel. We like to include those old fashion values in how we do things and we plan to keep doing them consistently into the future
About The Port Office Hotel
The Port Office Dining Room (nicknamed The Office) is open again for lunch and dinner, Monday to Saturday from 11.30 am ‘till late. Under the tutelage of Executive Chef Graham Waddell, the menu is a modern take on Australian gastro-pub food with subtle European and Scottish influences – a reflection of his heritage.