The experiment is over, at least for now. Italian Food Restaurant, Cameron and Jordan Votan’s rule-breaking Italian eatery, is closing. It will serve its last plates of pumpkin-filled tortellini and fried whole eggplant on October 20.
Cameron says the decision came after the Votans failed to reach terms with the landlord for a new lease on the Spring Hill restaurant. “The situation just became untenable up there and it meant we had to walk away,” he says.
The venue won’t even reach its first birthday. After what Cameron describes as a “slow start” in December in the former premises of the brothers’ iconic Happy Boy, Italian Food Restaurant developed a strong following for its clever mix of regional Italian plates and small-producer wine.
“We bit the bullet,” he says. “It’s a really heartbreaking decision because IFR … was stuff we were passionate about and wanted to do for our friends and family.
“We envisioned having more time to get IFR off the ground, ratcheting it up and getting that great customer base that Happy Boy moved with, and eventually moving it somewhere. But it … probably needed another six months up in its little nest in Spring Hill. Unfortunately, the timing didn’t work.”
The long-term plan is still to bring the restaurant back in another format, but the Votans’ existing commitments, combined with a saturated local restaurant scene, mean it will stay on the shelf for now.
“I’m not super buzzed about opening something in the current market with hundreds of things going on,” Cameron says. “Back when we opened [Happy Boy] at Spring Hill we had at least three or four months where we were the new thing in town. We went up to a restaurant the other day – it was brand new and it felt old because there were three other things that had opened that week.”
Cameron says they’re still evaluating a couple of potential tenancies for Italian Food Restaurant but it will likely be mid-next year before “the phoenix rises out of the ashes”. “And it would look different too,” he says. “A small format wine bar, 40 to 50 seats, with a chalkboard menu.”
“I think we’re all pretty heartbroken by it. The concept and the food is so strong and Brisbane needs something like this. Especially for the chef [John Sperenza] and the front-of-house staff. They put their heart and soul into it. They really believed in it and so did we. So to break it is sad. But most of the guys are staying on [at Happy Boy and Greenglass, [which the Votans co-own with Michael Larsen] so it’s not a bad story.”
Italian Food Restaurant will run its last dinner service October 20 with lunch service finishing at the end of this week. It has already wrapped its morning coffee service.