The story behind Gungahlin’s newest restaurant is a simple one, but one that should be told.
It began with a vision and a willingness to be different. Founded on more than 30 years of experience in the hospitality industry, Josh and Shell Leemhuis wanted to challenge conventions and bring to Gungahlin the kind of revolutionary dining experience that you would normally expect to find in the city.
Hence Casey Jones was born; a gastropub that opened its doors to the public on July 23. Its name is inspired by its location in Casey, but also by the tale of Jonathon ‘Casey’ Jones, a 19th Century railroad worker who tried to stop his passenger train from colliding with a freight train in Mississippi, branding him as ‘The Brave Engineer’.
We spoke to owner Josh Leemhuis about his own brave venture and how his vision for Casey Jones has come to life.
How did the idea for Casey Jones come about?
After studying the area, the clientele and our immediate competition we decided to go for a real gastropub that would offer food usually confined to the inner city and Kingston foreshore, as my wife and I have both found that when going out for high quality food and service options are very limited in the Gungahlin area. We wanted to give the residents of Casey, and Gungahlin for that matter, something to be proud of and something that would eventually stand toe to toe with some of the amazing restaurants and eateries we are fortunate to have in the inner city. We also wanted to break the rules so to speak for ‘pub fare’. Dishes like soft shell crab burgers, Gumbo and tempura okra are a step away from the usual pub staples like schnitzel, pot pie or T-bone.
Why did you choose to name the restaurant after Jonathon “Casey” Jones? How did you come up with the idea?
Funnily enough it started as a joke with family and close friends as a play on words regarding Casey Jones from the Ninja Turtles as there is a concealed manhole in the middle of the pub. And the fact that it was located in Casey lent itself to Casey Jones being our unofficial mascot as our first initial intentions were to create a sports bar. We kind of figured the character that carried around a bag full of sporting equipment was a good fit for such a bar! When we decided we were going to build a gastropub we had the idea of a Southern-American style venue as I spent three months in New Orleans and absolutely fell in love with it. Eventually the story of Casey Jones (the Brave Engineer) came up in conversation, who I was familiar with as I’m a huge Johnny Cash fan and he wrote a song about him. The rest grew from there and this explains the huge brick work arch and railroad artwork that covers the walls and the use of rail way sleepers for our bar and table tops, along with a lot of other subtle references to that era and southern feel.
Why did you choose Casey as the location?
The shopping centre itself along with the 500 free car spots were enough to almost sell me on the idea however it was the 10 metre high ceilings and option for a three split level venue in Gungahlin that sealed the deal.
What are you hoping to achieve?
We are hoping to be the first multi award-winning pub of our style and to be able to continue producing fresh food from as many of our local suppliers as possible. We also hope to show the people of Canberra that just going to the “pub” doesn’t mean you’re not going to find something new and exciting to eat and that proper service is not just reserved for restaurants. Basically we want to provide a comfortable atmosphere for our patrons and let our food and cocktails do the rest of the talking.
Tell us more about your background in the industry?
My wife Shell and I have about 30 years of experience in the hospitality industry up our sleeves (most of which are thanks to Shell). We have also owned the George Harcourt for more than four years, which is a very successful business in its own right and also had a lot to do with our decision to go for a completely different style of food and service here at Casey Jones.
How would you describe the style of the pub?
I think the style of the pub is truly one of its own. The 10-metre high ceilings are deceptive from the outside and aren’t really noticeable until you enter the front doors. It sort of makes you look twice and the first thing most people say is “wow we had no idea this place was so big”.
We have spent countless hours designing every aspect of Casey Jones, including the use of an abundance of upcycled products, like our bar which is made from old rail way sleepers. We also had the sleepers machined down into all of our tables. We also managed to source the old baleen squash court which clads a few of our walls and makes up our huge light box features and planter boxes around the pub. Our most favourite part however is the recycled red brick arch way which hints at the whole railway station feel of the pub.
There are more than 110 plants throughout the venue which softens the harshness of the brick work and recycled timber and offers little places to hide away with your friends.
What about the style of food – what sort of food can people look forward to?
Fresh local produce that is cooked to order, not reheated. We don’t even own a microwave and apart from a small freezer that looks after our soft shell crabs, you’re usually eating the produce that arrived that morning. We have very few deep fried options and we have a big focus on healthy alternatives and some unique Southern-American inspired cuisine that you won’t find anywhere else.
The images of the food and drinks feature vibrant pops of colour and look like pieces of art. Was this something you had in mind when designing the menu?
Most definitely. We hired the right guy for the job with this in mind – Abel Diaz Chook. He is a hatted chef and we will be backing him for another if we ever get the chance. His passion for fresh food is above all and his food is an artwork – we couldn’t be more proud of him!
Do you have a favourite dish?
Our seafood Gumbo is one of our most popular dishes and is one I brought back from New Orleans. Apart from the fact that you will not find it anywhere else in Canberra (for now), it really is an amazingly balanced dish.
What about a favourite drink?
My favourite drink would have to be our smoked bacon and blackened cherry old-fashioned.
Images by HCreations