4 July 2022

Moruya's Red Rose Cafe has been serving milkshakes and mixed grills for a century

| Karyn Starmer
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Red Rose Cafe Moruya

The Red Rose Café as it stands today. Photo: Red Rose Facebook.

Located on main street in the centre of the south coast town of Moruya, the Red Rose Café has been running continuously for a century.

In the tradition of thousands of milk bars across the country the café, still lined with seating booths, has been serving hamburgers, milkshakes and toasted sandwiches to generations of residents and visitors alike.

According to a story written in the Moruya Examiner, located by volunteers of the Moruya and District Historical Society, the now iconic café opened in May 1922, just before the river town’s boom days between 1924 and 1931, when hundreds of quarry workers and their families moved to Moruya to quarry the granite for the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Built, owned and operated by Greek proprietor Jack Caridas, the Red Rose served meals from a ubiquitous Australian milk bar menu of mixed grills, toasted sandwiches and pies with chips and gravy, all to be washed down with either a pot of hot tea, coffee or a milkshake.

Vulcan Street Moruya black and white photo

Vulcan Street Moruya in the 1920s. Photo: MDHS.

Located at number 52 Vulcan Street, the site was originally a saddlery owned and operated by Richard Knight in the late 1800s, later becoming a boot repair business when the motor car took over the streets.

Caridas purchased the Knight property in the early 1920s and built three new shops including space for the Red Rose Café. Clarrie Chesher opened a grocery store next door (now Curtis & Cloud) and the third was home to Knight’s shoe repairs and the Nader Brothers Menswear shop (now The Pantry).

Jack Caridas was a well known figure in town, not just for his café but also his rather portly physique. The phrase ‘getting a tummy on him like Mr Caridas’ was used to refer to the weight gain of locals at the time.

black and white photo of man in front of car

The original owner of the Red Rose Cafe Jack Caridas cut a striking figure in town. Photo: MDHS.

The original café featured two rows of wooden booths with the serving counter at the front and a residence to the rear.

A young Phyllis Siddall, was one of Mr Caridas’ first employees when he opened the café and was reportedly “very popular with all Moruya folk”.

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Moruya resident Col Chesher recalls visits to the café in the 1950s.

“My grandfather had the grocery store next door,” he said.

“As a boy I would go to the Red Rose on a Saturday for a milkshake. There were other cafes in town like Prices Café and Millers Café but they were mixed businesses selling groceries as well as food. The Red Rose was the only place that was just a café.

“When I was a bit older, my wife and I would go out on a Saturday night for a drink at the Monarch Hotel and then head to the Red Rose for dinner.”

Brothers Steve and Sam Michalos bought the café in the 1960s, replacing the timber fit out with the curved black booths still in place today.

Black and white photo of Vulcan Street Moruya

The Monarch Hotel and the Red Rose building were built in Art Deco style and retain their facades today. Photo: MDHS.

Current owners Guillermo (Bill) Olmos and Barbara McLean gave the shop a much needed revamp after purchasing the by-then tired icon in 2008.

Prior to owning the Red Rose the couple ran the Truck Stop on the Federal Highway and the Cullendulla Roadhouse.

On taking over the café, Guillermo placed a very large coffee machine on the front counter, donned his trademark apron and turned the Red Rose to serving early morning bacon and egg rolls and espresso coffee to grateful workers and tradies in high vis.

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Tables and chairs were placed on the street outside and a more modern menu, still keeping the well loved burgers and milkshakes, drawing crowds for morning teas and lunches later in the day.

Now, after 14 years, Bill and Barbara have sold the Red Rose and are looking forward to a well earned retirement from busy days with 5 am starts.

“It really is time for us to retire,” Mr Olmos said.

“The Red Rose is the oldest café in Moruya. Running continuously for 100 years it is a special part of the town’s history.

“I hope the new owners will enjoy serving the town and take good care of it.”

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I remember before Sam and Steve it was owned by nick corunna and before that was a Mrs heslop she had the best crushed pineapple drink

George Coroneos5:48 pm 30 Dec 22

Hello John. My name is George. I would like to ask you if the Nick Corunna you are referring to is probably Nick Coroneos who owned the Red rose cafe from possibly between 1964-1969? Would love to hear from you. Regards, George.

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