He’s the Coast’s very own Manpower star turned nightclub owner and entertainment guru and now, local legend Billy Cross is in the business of six-star rooftop bars.
Billy has joined forces with The Star Gold Coast and Hellenika’s Simon Gloftis to bring the Gold Coast a next-level (literally) restaurant and lounge bar with sweeping city views and a sense of sophistication the likes of which our city has never seen.
We chat with Billy about what we can expect from the game changing venue and how he’s gone from King of the glitter strip to co-creator of what he calls the best rooftop bar in Australia.
How long have you been a Gold Coast local?
I’ve lived here for 35 years; I came up quite young so I’m a true Maroons supporter, and I’ve lived here long enough to qualify.
What are your thoughts on the Coast’s growing entertainment scene?
I suppose the thing I love most about being in the entertainment and food industries is seeing how they’ve changed. 10 years ago we had cafes and a restaurant here and there but now when you look at what we have, especially from Broadbeach to Burleigh, there are some absolutely amazing establishments. That’s the part that’s excited me most. 10 years ago you could go to one or two restaurants that were quite good but now there are so many options and so many amazing operators that have really put us on that national level.
What do you love most about living here?
Where I started and created my business was with the Manpower show – Thunder Down Under – which is in Vegas now but also travels the world. I had an opportunity to live and bring my family up in the US but I didn’t because I’ve always loved living on the Coast and everything our city offers. I then got into the nightclub and festival industries, started Summafieldayze and am now involved in events so when you look at those businesses, the Gold Coast is probably one of the best places in the world to work but there’s also a relaxed lifestyle where you can bring up a family. We also have the best beaches in the world and the hinterland, the Coast offers so much. We’re quite spoilt.
Tell us about your latest project at The Star Gold Coast, what can we expect?
It’s going to be a lounge bar, there’ll be a pool and an amazing restaurant. I think Simon and I together are just a dynamic force. In the late 90s I ran the nightclub strip in Surfers when it was powering. I got out of the industry and thought I was done but being asked by The Star to get on board with this investment was so exciting for me. What we’re going to create is not just something the Gold Coast will love but also something that will appeal to people Australia-wide and all over the world. Having a rooftop at The Star Gold Coast is going to be incredible, it’s a serious player and I think it’s going to be the best rooftop bar in Australia. It’s gotten me so excited to get back into the industry. It’ll be a place for the over 25s market to really enjoy. I’ve been involved with it now for the past two years and we’ve needed this on the Coast for a long time. We’ve got some great places but this one is going to be a six-star tower, a really classy place.
How do you think the venue will change the Gold Coast’s entertainment scene?
What it will create is a very high-end restaurant that’s going to have one of the best views on the Gold Coast. As a lounge and bar experience it will have an amazing atmosphere of pure class. You can come up and relax with a beautiful view, enjoy some amazing drinks and some cool old school music. It will have an edgy but classy feel, which I think is something we don’t really have at the moment.
How did you and Simon come up with the idea for something so extravagant?
It was collaboration of course. A big part of the design and the creation was between Simon, myself and The Star. They’ve got an amazing team of people on board and that makes our job easier. It was just everyone putting in their ideas and their two cents to see what it became. For the last five years it’s been something I’ve touched on. For those over 25, after you go to dinner, where do you go? This is going to be a place where of course the restaurant will be busy too, but it will be somewhere you can also go after dinner to have a lounge experience. I feel like this will be the place to go to dress up, enjoy drinks with your friends or partner and have a great time. The bar will be open until 3am so you can go and have a dance after dinner, which is something I think we really need here.
When will we find out the name?
The name will come out in the next couple of weeks; we’ve got a big campaign starting soon. To show people photos just doesn’t do it justice, I can’t wait for people to experience it.
You’ve done so much throughout your career, what have been the highlights?
I’m quite fortunate that I’ve had such a great career in the entertainment industry. When I built my first club, the Berlin Lounge Bar, back in the late 90s we were one of the first to bring house music to the Gold Coast so that was definitely one of the highlights. Creating Summafieldayze was a highlight because there was only Big Day Out back then. Having a diverse career in entertainment, from running a successful show in Vegas to the nightclub industry to creating one of the biggest festivals in SE QLD and now being involved in what’s going to be one of the best restaurant and lounge bars in Australia, I can’t complain. The highlights keep coming.
Any chance you might want to bring us another local music festival?
We’ve always talked about that. I’m involved with the Hangout Festival called Sand Tunes on Coolangatta Beach which will happen on December 1st and 2nd this year so that’s going to be huge. The guys that run Hangout Festival in Alabama have a great lineup so that will be quite diverse and exciting for the Gold Coast. It will have that Splendour and Falls feel and will be a great tourism push for the southern Gold Coast.
Best piece of life advice you’ve ever received?
Do what you love and love what you do. A lot of people in this world will tell you, you can’t do something but you’ve just got to believe in yourself.
Being a Gold Coast local we have to ask your favourites on the Coast…
Beach: We usually go down to First Ave in Broadbeach but I do love Currumbin, you can’t really beat it
Cafe: BlendLove, Goji Bar in Clear Island Waters and I definitely love Elk Espresso
Restaurant: Definitely Hellenika is my favourite
How does your weekend usually look? My weekend is usually spent with the kids who are right into their basketball at the moment. I’m quite involved in that and the Gold Coast Rollers basketball team, I love my basketball and I love my Titans aswell. I spend a lot of time at Riverstage at the moment too.
We’re going to call it, Simon Gloftis is the man who started the foodie revolution on the Gold Coast. Starting with Little Beans, then now-iconic Greek eatery Hellenika and finally The Fish House, the restaurateur has a slew of local firsts under his belt.
His passion for the Gold Coast’s dining scene has seen him become one of the most familiar faces in town and he’s showing no signs of slowing down.
We chat with Simon about Hellenika’s soon to be opened rooftop bar and the game-changing plans he’s got in store for the Coast.
How did your passion for food came about?
I didn’t realise but obviously growing up in a European family, it was ingrained in me when I was a kid. My godfather has one of the most famous Greek restaurants in Melbourne and we used to go there as a family but I wouldn’t sit at the table I’d go and stand at the door of the kitchen and they’d pass me food and I’d take it out. Then I got a job delivering pizza, worked in a few restaurants, then went to pizza maker and floor manager then I went back to the kitchen. I eventually left hospitality and got my real estate license but every night I was going home and instead of studying the real estate course I was looking at cookbooks so I realised what I loved. I had three cafes on the Gold Coast and then from the cafes I opened Hellenika then Fish House.
What is it you love so much about it?
I literally wake up in the morning and start thinking about food, then I eat food and I don’t stop until I go to bed. It’s my life. I don’t travel anywhere other than for food. When I go to Europe I book the restaurants before I go, even if I’m popping down to Sydney I book the restaurants before I book the flights. It’s all I want to do.
How long have you been a Gold Coast local?
I went to Marymount College from year four. I was born in Melbourne then we moved to Brisbane, back to Melbourne then to the Gold Coast.
What do you love most about living here?
I just think there’s an energy here on the Gold Coast that the bigger cities could only dream about. We can actually make an impact with such a small decision. When I opened up Little Beans in Nobby’s it was probably the only real espresso bar on the Coast and people followed it straight away. We needed these places. In a big city you can make an impact but you get lost. My whole success on the Coast has been because people supported me. They followed me from Three Beans to Little Beans to Piccolo to Hellenika to The Fish House and now back to Hellenika. I’ve got the same customers from back then and some of my staff have worked in all those venues. The Coast has been a massive support for me.
Why are you so passionate about bringing such quality dining venues to the Coast?
Some of it’s a bit selfish, I actually do things I like and then hope enough people like the same thing. I’m a big fan of healthy food, not as in quinoa salad, as in King George Whiting and Greek salad. When you come to one of my restaurants you will get the best produce in Australia, bar none. We’re either equal to, or better than, every other restaurant in the country and that’s my whole motto.
Do you have a personal favourite of all the ones you’ve opened?
Hellenika. I love every one of my venues because they’re all a piece of me but when I walk into Hellenika I feel like it’s home. I eat there five or six nights a week, I’m happy there. I love the nice big wooden tables, the Greek music, the food, and the wine, the feeling. We all say there’s something in the walls at Hellenika, it’s looked after so many people. It feels like it’s been around for 40 years.
What have you got in store for Hellenika?
We renovated the whole building and I put a whole new level on it. Downstairs will be opening next Friday (1st September) and upstairs is probably about eight weeks away. Upstairs will be a bar with a retractable roof. Downstairs has gone from a taverna-style venue. It had that real rustic Melbourne-style Greek restaurant feel. It’s gone away from that now so when you walk in you’re going to feel like you’re in a Greek restaurant in Athens but something that’s modern today. We’ve gone from 110 wines on our list to 500, it’s amazing, there are 50 indigenous wines from Greece alone. We’re taking everything to the next level. We’ve added some new dishes to the menu – kept about 60% of the favourites – but added some really traditional Greek dishes. Things like Corfu Bianco which is my favourite dish, it’s potatoes and Kingfish baked in the oven with olive oil and lemon juice. So simple but so beautiful.
It’s going to be a touch more formal downstairs and then upstairs is a lot more casual. It’ll be all the mezze food, which is tapas in Greek. Things like pork belly, meatballs, zucchini chips, all that lighter stuff. The bar upstairs will be the main focus, we just want people to be able to come and have a light dinner or snack and drinks. We’ll try and be open until midnight every night upstairs so there’s no guessing if we’re open. You can feel comfortable to go at 10 o’clock at night and have a wine.
What are your thoughts on the rapidly growing dining scene of late?
To give you an example, seven years ago I had to explain what share food was. We had to tell people that food comes to the middle of the table and it’s sort of like a Chinese restaurant. Hellenika was also the first one to do double sittings. Now, that’s commonplace. Nine of my ex staff have opened up venues between Broadbeach and Palm Beach, most of your favourites were opened by my ex staff. I’m really proud of what’s happened on the Gold Coast, if I had a small part to do with it, that’s great.
How would you like to see our foodie scene change or grow over the next few years?
We’ve opened up all the venues I think it might be enough now, there’s nearly one restaurant per person. I think there might be a little bit of hardship to come, just because I know how hard it can be. I’m hoping we consolidate a little bit and maybe get more quality into what we’ve already got before we think about expanding too much further. We need all these local restaurants to make sure what they’re doing is the best they can do. I think it’s neglectful to customers if you start giving them things that are making them sick like artificial flavours and enhancers. I’m hoping we improve on what we’ve got before we grow too much more.
What’s happening after the rooftop is up and running?
I sold The Fish House to do an amazing project, which I can’t mention for a few months but that’s the next big one. Hellenika will always be my baby but I’ve got plans for something that will really be game changing. I can’t wait to launch it.
Being a Gold Coast local, we have to ask your favourites…
Café: For someone who’s owned cafes, I don’t hang out in cafes. I do pop down to get a smoothie or juice from Smoothie Shack, that’s about the extent of it.
Restaurant: Can I mention a few? For steak, Glenelg Public House, again Aaron used to work with me. For soup I go to New Saigon and get my Pho. For ribs I go to Fire Cue. For sushi I go to Sapporo in Broadbeach, they’re the only ones on the Gold Coast that I know buys the same quality seafood I do (just ask them what their best dish of the day is and go with that). For hot pot I go to Itoshin in Mermaid Beach. My cousin owns The Lamb Shop in Burleigh so I’m always up there. Pinocchio in Mermaid Beach do a really good fennel salad.
Weekend hang: I’m working on weekends but my weekend is during the week. I’m just hanging out in Nobby’s. The boys and I always get together on a Tuesday and have dinner, that’s my thing. My family owns Miami Marketta so I’m there a lot to watch a band and hang out.
Those of you who love Hellenika as much as we do will understand that it feels like it’s been years since Simon and the crew shut up shop to perch an extra level on top of the already incredible space.
Well, food-loving friends, we’re (way too) pleased to report that the newly renovated downstairs restaurant is once again open for business.
Last week we reported Simon had revamped the space he previously referred to as a Melbourne-esque taverna into a slightly more elegant Estiatorio (a restaurant you’d find in Greece).
And friends, we cannot emphasise this point enough, elegance is everywhere at the new look Hellenika even down to the blush pink crockery made by local potter Marloe Marloe.
Without a doubt everyone’s favourite area will be the tucked away corner featuring a painting of Aristotle Onassis – a Greek businessman much-loved in his passionate homeland. He’s akin to JFK in the States, and you know, Mick Fanning here in good old Oz.
The menu, while remaining largely the same features a few new dishes Simon is particularly excited about. The first is Corfu Bianco, a South Australian Kingfish baked in the oven with olive oil and lemon juice, simple and absolutely beautiful.
The second is a barrel-ripened feta imported from Greece and drizzled with olive oil and oregano and the third, Hilopites – beef shin with square pasta and tomato. We’ll take all three please.
As mentioned last week, the wine list has increased from 110 to 500 bottles with 50 brought in from Greece alone.
And you thought Hellenika went above and beyond before.
P.S We got also got a sneak peek at the rooftop bar and, in a word, it’s EPIC.
LOCATION: 2235 Gold Coast Hwy, Nobby Beach
HOURS: 5pm to 11.30pm Monday to Saturday and 12pm to 4pm / 5pm to 11.30pm Sunday
Words and photos by Kirra Smith.