Back in the days when you could bring a keg of beer to a restaurant and dance on the table if you wanted to, El Charros, Townsville’s Original Mexican Restaurant, reigned supreme. So where is the king of that fondly remembered castle now? We tracked down Graham Broadbent for a chat.
For over a decade, El Charros on Gregory Street near The Strand was the go-to restaurant. Run by Graham Broadbent, whose father was a well-known doctor, El Charros was always packed.
“We’d have people sitting at the public bar at the Seaview Hotel while waiting to get in,” says Graham, who bought the restaurant in 1985. “One table would finish up and we’d go across and get the next lot. No-one cared as they knew they would get a feed and next week the roles may be reversed.”
The likes of Simply Red and The Shadows stopped in at El Charros when they were town — loving the laid-back atmosphere where customers were trained to put their stubby coolers on their head when they were ready for another beer.
“Our girls always sat down beside the customers to take their orders, so it wasn’t like a restaurant where the staff were acting like staff. They were just part of the fun,” Graham says. “We had every F/A-18 fighter pilot come through the place for years and the new boys had to eat a chilli. I remember one night two of them forgot to wash their hands before they went to the loo and the whole restaurant could hear the screams.”
With the benefit of hindsight, Graham says he would’ve made El Charros into a licensed venue and updated it.
“We suffered with The Strand development. Now, when you look at where the restaurant was on Gregory Street, it was in the perfect position,” Graham says. “I moved on and set up another restaurant (Lawson’s Restaurant) at the World Theatre in Charters Towers and was so proud when we were voted North Queensland’s Best Restaurant/Café Over 65 Seats. We did a lot of catering for theatre events and things like the Variety Club bashes.”
“We had every F/A-18 fighter pilot come through the place for years and the new boys had to eat a chilli.” – Graham Broadbent
After four years at Lawson’s (1996 to 2000), Graham sold Lawson’s and came back to Townsville to a position in business banking. It wasn’t a completely new field for him, as he’d worked for Avco before getting into the restaurant business.
“I was with Suncorp for seven years, working in Townsville and Cairns, which was great… until the Global Financial Crisis hit in 2007. That’s when I got into the mining game.”
For the last 10 years, Graham has been involved in crushing at mine sites in Northern Australia, as far afield as the Pilbara in Western Australia and Borroloola in the Northern Territory. He lives in a quiet acreage estate near Noosa with his family and has become accustomed to the fly-in, fly-out lifestyle. There’s only one problem… he can’t find a good Mexican restaurant nearby.
I’ve been looking for a while now but am still undecided about recreating something like the old El Charros again,” Graham says. “Maybe a Mexican-food caravan going around the markets…”
Remember El Charros? Check out some of the old photos (and add your own!) at www.facebook.com/El-Charros-Townsvilles-Original-Mexican-Restuarant-1217191078350725