Wednesday, 23 May 2012

60 SECOND INTERVIEW: Tony Morraffa

CHEF Tony Morraffa has worked in catering for more than three decades and has run the Country Kitchen in Weymouth for the past two years. But it was his conversion of Bridport’s Café Royal into a 1950s themed diner that caught the public’s imagination. He has described refurbishing the building as “like opening a can of worms” but successfully reopened the iconic local landmark a month ago. Originally from Leicester, the 47-year-old has lived in Weymouth for 20 years and makes the hour-long round trip to Bridport daily to run his new venture.

WHEN did you start in the restaurant business?
I’ve been working in kitchens since I was 15-years-old. I started as a kitchen porter, which in those days was just a pot washer, and worked my way up. I trained as a chef when I was 18-years-old and since then I’ve cooked in pubs, hotels, restaurants, all kinds of places.

WHAT made you take on the Café Royal?
It’s always been a dream of mine to run a 50s style cafe. Then one day someone was selling some equipment at the Café Royal and I came down to have a look at it. After that I’ve always quite fancied having the place. The news of somebody leaving it gave me the idea of taking it on and doing something with it.

WHAT'S your fascination with the 1950s?
I have always had an interest in the period. The music, the style, it was just a way of life I suppose. It was something I didn’t experience first hand - I was born in the sixties - but my parents were very much into the music and the style sort of rubbed off on me if you like. I was always hearing Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, The Everly Brothers, music like that.

HOW did you go about designing the interior of the café?
I had a rough idea of what I was going to do with the place before I started. I had photographs of American diners, things I had seen online. The old HMV record player on the counter I got from the attic in my mum’s house. The hubcaps you see on the wall, I’d already collected. I’ve been collecting them for years and I’ve got around 60 now. People come into the café to photograph them. My favourite is the Oldsmobile – it’s from the 50s and is the oldest one I have. A lot are American. The Chevrolet ones are from a vehicle I actually drove.

RUNNING two restaurants takes a lot of work. What motivates you?
I’ve just got the ambition and drive to expand and do that kind of thing. I’d like to do more. Obviously I’ve got to see how the Café Royal goes, but I’m confident it’s going to make money, so eventually when another premises comes up similar to this one, then who knows, I might look into it. It was a lot of work to refurbish this place but at the end of the day it’s what you put into something that gives you your returns back. The more you put in, the more you get back. 

EVER want a break?
Yeah, I need one. I work seven days a week. I haven’t had a holiday for four years. My last project, the Country Kitchen in Weymouth, took two years to get where it is today and now I’ve taken this on. I’m just a bit of a workaholic I suppose and I’m doing quite well to stay on my feet sometimes. I don’t really have any hobbies apart from cooking and music.

HOW important is music to you?
It’s very important. I’d like to turn the Café Royal into a bit of a music venue if I could. If there are people into music like rhythm & blues, rock n’ roll or any music from that era, I’d like to get them here. I’ve had a band play here already and it’s been really good. Also I’ve played guitar since I was 14, on and off. I’ve got an electric guitar, a nice old Fender Strat. I’ve thought about bringing it down and hanging it up somewhere but it’s quite expensive and I don’t really want it getting clattered.

WHAT do you like about living in the Dorset?
It’s the beautiful countryside. My mum’s lived in Portland for 25, 30 years, and I’ve been in Weymouth 20, so it’s my home now. I went back to Leicester not so long back and when I got off at the main bus station in the centre of town, it just didn’t seem like home at all any more. It was just a different place really.

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