Annastacia Palaszczuk and Wayne Bennett praise restaurateur Michael Gambaro following his death at age 83.
Annastacia Palaszczuk and Wayne Bennett praise restaurateur Michael Gambaro following his death at age 83.

Bennett leads tributes to restaurateur

Tributes have flowed like the finest champagne for legendary restaurateur Michael Gambaro following his death at age 83.

Mr Gambaro, who co-founded Brisbane's oldest restaurant Gambaro's and spearheaded a hospitality dynasty, passed away peacefully on Thursday night.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said Mr Gambaro was "one of those Queenslanders who made Queensland what it is".

"When people think of the best of this state - Moreton Bay Bugs, Mooloolaba prawns and mud crabs - they'll always think of Gambaro's; that's Michael's legacy," Ms Palaszczuk said.

Michael Gambaro at his restaurant. Picture: Mark Cranitch.
Michael Gambaro at his restaurant. Picture: Mark Cranitch.

"But he also had those other special ingredients - a fierce love for his family, hard work, a sense of fun and friendship - that all of us value."

Queensland State of Origin coach Wayne Bennett said Mr Gambaro - his first boss as a 14-year-old boy fresh from Warwick - taught him a "great life lesson".

"I was working in the Gambaro's grocery store in New Farm (in the 1960s), stacking shelves and delivery groceries on my bike, and I thought I was doing a pretty good job but Michael told me I wasn't doing it properly," Mr Bennett said.

"I realised I had to change to do what he wanted. It's a lesson I've carried throughout my coaching life - give people feedback on their performance and give them an opportunity to change.

"I only worked there for seven months but when I left at 15 he had tears in his eyes; and we've remained firm friends for 56 years."

 

 

 

Mr Gambaro, a father of eight, founded Gambaro's seafood restaurant in Petrie Terrace in 1974 with his late brother Domenico after inheriting a fish and chip shop started by their Italian immigrant father Giovanbaptista in 1953.

Famous diners at the Caxton Street institution have included the late Kenny Rogers, Luciano Pavarotti and Jerry Lewis, Dolly Parton, Ed Sheeran, Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel and former prime ministers John Howard and Tony Abbott.

 

 

Michael Gambaro with sons, Donny, Frank and John. Picture: Mark Cranitch
Michael Gambaro with sons, Donny, Frank and John. Picture: Mark Cranitch

 

 

In recent years Mr Gambaro's sons John, Donny and Frank have expanded the family empire beyond their father's wildest dreams.

A heartbroken John Gambaro said: "Dad loved his family, his friends and customers, he loved his work and was so proud of the life he created. We will never stop loving him; he was my hero and my mate."

Business identity and Brisbane Lions hall of famer John Pearce hailed Mr Gambaro as "an absolute icon".

"I had lunch with Michael once a week for the last 25 years," Mr Pearce said.

Michael and Joyce Gambaro.
Michael and Joyce Gambaro.

"He was probably the best known Brisbane restaurateur anywhere in the world because anyone who came here from overseas dined at Gambaro's. He was one of the most lovable larrikins I've met, in the kindest sense."

Harvey Lister, chairman of AEG Ogden which manages Suncorp Stadium and Brisbane Entertainment Centre, said the Gambaro's cold seafood platter was a must for visiting artists, and in the 1980s the restaurant would always stay open late to accommodate special guests.

AEG Ogden general manager Alan Campbell said Mr Gambaro was a "magnificent story teller with a devilish charm" while rugby league great Chris Johns called him a "champion of his community".

"He typified what it means to be an Aussie and the fabric of our society was weaved by men like Michael Gambaro; he started with nothing and built a legacy," Mr Johns said.

Gambaro’s in 1982.
Gambaro’s in 1982.

Restaurant & Catering Australia CEO Wes Lambert said Mr Gambaro was "a legend of the industry" while rich-lister entrepreneur Cathie Reid said "having him pull up a seat at your table to have a drink and a chat contributed to the special Gambaro experience".

Throughout his life Mr Gambaro assisted many charities, including The Courier-Mail Children's Fund, and was a generous donor to The Wesley Hospital.

During the economic boom of the Eighties, he branched into seafood wholesaling, becoming the official supplier to World Expo '88.

 

Premier Annastasia Palaszczuk was one of many to pay tribute to Mr Gambaro. Picture: Peter Wallis.
Premier Annastasia Palaszczuk was one of many to pay tribute to Mr Gambaro. Picture: Peter Wallis.

 

In 2003 he oversaw renovations to the main Gambaro restaurant building ahead of the opening of Suncorp Stadium and fifth Rugby World Cup.

Over the last 13 years he has continued to mentor his sons as they managed the expansion of Black Hide Steakhouse, transformed Gambaro Seafood Restaurant and built the boutique Gambaro Hotel, and recently opened Black Hide at the Treasury Casino and Persone restaurant in North Quay.

Mr Gambaro is also survived by his devoted wife of 53 years, Joyce, daughters Rosie, Clair, Gina, Maria and Hedy, 17 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Originally published as 'He taught me a great life lesson': Bennett leads tributes to restaurateur



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