Bird Rock, Roku Den and Alisitos all perfectly reflect the culmination of this restauranteur's history, experiences, and travels.
What do a fancy Japanese restaurant, Mexican street food restaurant, and the Jan Juc staple Bird Rock all have in common? Apart from all serving up absolutely delish food and drink and offering the best ambience on the Surfcoast, there’s a larger link – they’re all owned by California-born restauranteur Anthony Gist. And despite these restaurants appearing disparate on paper, upon talking to Anthony they all make sense.
Anthony embarked on a life of travel in his twenties, but he never could’ve expected that Torquay would capture his heart and he’d settle into life on the coast creating some of the best dining experiences in the area.
I spent some time with Anthony, figuring out what made him tick and how he’s managed to create three iconic venues that perfectly reflect the culmination of Anthony’s history, experiences, and travels. Turns out, that drive comes from wanting to create the perfect moment for people to enjoy.
“I love creating atmospheres, working where people can come together around the table, eat food, have a drink, and laugh. Putting your phones away – except for maybe snapping a photo and tagging #Alisitos, #BirdRock, #RokuDen.”
“The staple for what I try to provide is always, good food, good service, good atmosphere. My ultimate goal is to provide that atmosphere, so people can just enjoy the aspects I provide and while enjoying each other’s company.”
The diverse nature of the restaurants reflects Anthony’s extensive travels, family life, and personality. Each perfectly capturing an aspect of his personality and distilling it into a stunning dining experience at each one.
So, what are the stories behind his restaurants?
Anthony’s first Torquay venture saw him open the sophisticated, Japanese restaurant Roku Den. After growing up on the southern Californian coast, with parents who enjoyed fishing, Anthony developed a taste for the freshest fish he could get his hands on. Anthony’s first foray into Japanese cooking came after he relentlessly begged the chef at his local sushi restaurant for a job.
From there, Anthony’s ambition was quickly inspired. “ I think from early on I always had an ambition to have my own restaurant… The atmosphere they created in that sushi bar. The head chef was just a master of not only sushi but creating such a fun atmosphere. All the local young crew used to come hang out, eat food.”
And that’s something Anthony has seamlessly been able to replicate. Roku Den quickly became a local staple, something Anthony credits to the Torquay locals. It became such a staple in fact, that soon he was ready to tackle his next project – Alisitos.
If you head down, Anthony recommends the sashimi and nigiri made from the freshest fish possible. Follow with a nice cold Sapporo or perhaps one of their sakes.
Alisitos is the energetic and colourful younger sister to the sophisticated Roku Den and came to life out of necessity – Anthony was homesick for the Cali-style Mex reminiscent of his childhood.
“I was just missing all my California style Mex. All my carne asada tacos, the Baja fish tacos, my Aunt Gina’s enchiladas. And a lot of people doing Mex were doing different styles or just were not putting love into it. So I thought I’d go round two.”
“When I fly back to Cali, the first place I go is to the taco truck. We call them roach coaches. Just the manky little taco trucks on the side of the road, but there’s just beautiful food being put out of them. It’s really hard to duplicate those flavours.”
And with Alisitos at almost three years in business, it has gone from strength to strength combining the Cali-style Mex Anthony craved so much with his inimitable knack for creating the perfect dining atmosphere. The relaxed atmosphere is perfect for bringing the mates and settling in for a night of tacos, margaritas, and Aunt Gina’s enchiladas (a must-try!).
Anthony’s recommendation? “Hands down the carne asada and fish tacos.” An obligatory margarita doesn’t go astray either – no cheap tequila here!
Soon after opening Alisitos (mere months) the opportunity came up for Anthony to take over the iconic Bird Rock in Jan Juc. Having been a bit of an adventure-seeking, adrenaline junkie, Anthony admits that he now seeks adrenalin by seeking out new business challenges, and in his own words, “it became a challenge to resurrect Birdie.”
“I met most of my dear friends here at Bird Rock,” said Anthony so the challenge was a deeply personal one.
And it was a challenge that paid off! “It’s amazing. All the local kids are back. Even, you know, the older generation. There’s such a diverse age range and demographic…. Everybody mingles.”
So what would Anthony’s pick be for a night at Bird Rock? Dumplings and gyoza or the gado gado salad inspired by one of their chef’s Sri Lankan heritage. And to drink? You’ve gotta try their Black Bird Ale, a joint venture with Blackman’s Brewery, the perfect cross between a pale ale and a citrusy IPA.
If you’re looking for a good night out down the coast, you cannot go wrong with any of Anthony’s places – with such a focus on creating a good vibe, there’s always a good night to be had! Check out Alisitos here, Bird Rock here and Roku Den here.