By Emily Friedel
Owning and running a restaurant and bar was not something the Todero-Ehmer clan ever planned to do. Apart from Jason Todero having done some casual bartending, none of them even had hospitality experience. But fate had other ideas, and the mother-father-son trio are now officially – and proudly – among Eildon’s restauranteurs.
The family’s unexpected foray into the hospitality business world all started last summer when Jason was doing some bartending for the new owners of the Eild Marina & Houseboat Hire. The marina owners wanted to step away from the restaurant and bar side of the business, and Jason jumped at the opportunity to take over the lease.
“Andrew who bought the marina said do you guys want it, and I convinced Mum and Dad, and now here we are,” he says.
Jason and his parents, Brigitta Ehmer and Danny Todero, took the plunge in February, renaming the restaurant El Lago (‘the lake’ in Spanish). Transitioning to full-time residence in the area was easy as the family has had a holiday house in Taylor Bay for over four decades. Adapting to the hospitality industry has been a little more challenging. While Danny and Brigitta are seasoned business owners, Danny says running the restaurant has been a steep learning curve.
“It is a stressful business, it’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And I’ve dealt with a lot of people and had a lot of people working for me. But with this industry, come 12 o’clock we could have 150 people standing in front of the door. They’ve all got to be seated, they’ve all got to be fed, and we’re trying to get the food out as quick as we can, so that’s the stressful part,” he says.
However, he also adds that there is an upside that makes it all worthwhile.
“The fun part is serving drinks, having music on and people singing and dancing. As an example, one night a John Denver song came on and everyone erupted into singing it – 80 people in here and they were all singing the John Denver song. It was brilliant.”
In between having fun with patrons, the family has been hard at work revitalising the restaurant and giving it their personal touch. After closing for a few months, the premises were reopened in spring with a comprehensive makeover, including the addition of a beer garden, café area, and function room for 15 to 20 people.
“We’ve literally renovated everything from floor to ceiling. We wanted a brand new look. It’s totally different to what it was – completely different staff, completely different menus. Everything is new,” Jason says.
On those new menus, customers will find what Jason describes as “modern Australian cuisine” with a focus on seafood. There will also be pizzas made by an Italian chef, plenty of local produce, parmas, and weekly specials over summer.
The family will also throw some live music into the mix to liven things up.
“I know that’s what I want when I go on holidays: a place with a view like that, sit down with good food and a couple of drinks and enjoy some live music,” Danny says.
Most of all, the family emphasises that they want the restaurant and bar to have a fun, casual atmosphere where everyone feels welcome.
“It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from, if you want to have a good time, we treat everyone who walks through that door as family. We just want people to come here and have a good time,” Jason says.
Of course, that hospitality will be extended throughout most of the festive season, and El Lago will be open for Christmas Eve, Boxing Day, and New Year’s Eve. But they will be taking a well-earned breather on Christmas Day.
“We’re going to be working 18-hour days up until then, so we’ll take Christmas day off to see family,” Jason says.
Other than that, Jason, Danny and Brigitta are anticipating being flat out in the restaurant over summer with tourists and locals making the most of Lake Eildon’s high water levels. Jason encourages anyone who’s out that way to drop by for a drink or bite to eat and some fun.
“If you’re coming to the Lake, come to El Lago. It’s the place to be.”
El Lago is located at 190 Sugarloaf Rd, Eildon. For more information call 0472 593 367 or find them on Facebook (El Lago Eildon) or Instagram (ellago_eildon)