Back in the day, Jorge Solano headed up one of Townsville’s first high-end restaurants. Nowadays he manufactures a range of gourmet syrups and roasted coffee… but he’s as passionate as ever about delivering the best of the best.
1986 Jorge Solano
General Manager, Townsville International Hotel
Remember Solano’s Restaurant at Opus One in Flinders Street East? In the 70s, it was where the movers and shakers met to talk business and if you didn’t dress up, you didn’t get in.
The man who started the gourmet restaurant, Jorge Solano, was well-known as the dynamic general manager of the Townsville International Hotel, or the ‘Sugar Shaker’ as we locals call it. Going out on his own to set up Solano’s Restaurant, Jorge’s belief that Townsville needed a first-class restaurant was rewarded with a loyal following.
Matt Muhl & Jorge Solano
1989 Solano’s Lunch Menu
“Coming from the Townsville International, where we had a very good restaurant, I knew I could expand from there to create something Townsville would be proud to call our own,” Jorge says.
“The aim was to create a restaurant that offered all those little luxuries. Townsville in the 1970s was still very rural, but we started seeing an increase in visitors from Melbourne, Sydney and overseas, back when the Townsville Airport was international.
1989 Jorge and wife Gina Solano opening night of Solano’s Restaurant
“The influx of new businessmen demanded better services and attitudes in the hospitality and catering space and locals hosting people from the big capital cities down south were keen to impress.”
Pink-carpeted, with deep-red curtains, Solano’s Restaurant offered a full silver service menu. The staff wore long black frocks with white gloves, while the maitre d’ donned a tux. The chef was imported from Germany and was trained in France by a grand chef.
“We won a North Queensland licensee board award as the Best Designed Restaurant,” Jorge recalls.
“My fondest memory is guests arriving dressed in ties and coats and cocktail gowns. People wanted to show that Townsville was as good as, or better than, the big cities. It made me feel very proud as the host.”
In his life after the restaurant, Jorge became involved in the staffing of the Four Seasons Flotel on the Great Barrier Reef before going to manage the Four Seasons’ Darwin hotel.
1989 Newspaper article on the opening of Solano’s Restaurant
“In the early 80s I got an offer to manage the first Sheraton in Costa Rica, where I’m from,” Jorge says.
“I then moved to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina USA, still working for Sheraton. While I was there, a German consortium who had bought the Tamarindo Diria Beach Resort in Costa Rica approached me and offered me the position of General Manager.
“I took up the challenge and later went on to become Vice President, of the Tamarindo Diria Beach Resort, where I stayed for over a decade.”
However, determined that his children should finish their schooling in Australia, Jorge decided to return Down Under. He retired in 2004 but, being a person who is constantly on the go, soon found he wasn’t suited to life in the slow lane.”
In 2005, as a ‘hobby’, Jorge launched a coffee importing business under the name Café Nica. While doing the coffee cupping at the SUPA IGAs, from Cairns all the way to Townsville, he started using syrups to complement the coffee and Solano’s Syrups was born.
“While importing coffee from Nicaragua, and through a food chemist professor from the University of Nicaragua, I learned more about syrup making and manufacturing, sometimes through trial and error,” Jorge says.
“Solano’s Syrups are made from North Queensland sugar and are a natural product manufactured with a wide range of applications in mind from coffees to pancakes, cocktails and liquors.”
When Jorge’s ‘hobby’ grew bigger than one person could handle, he took on 24-year-old Matt Muhl, who has a strong knowledge of coffee, as his business partner.
“Our business is far more than syrups –we’re a specialty coffee roaster and syrup manufacturer and our shared vision is for the business to comprehensively cover Queensland and the Northern Territory,” Jorge says.
“We deal in all spectrums of the coffee world and all of our products have the quality and attention to detail the Solano’s name is known for, which is why they’re so popular.”
Operating out of their Garbutt-based factory, Solano’s Syrups sell their syrups and coffee from 3/14 Whitehouse Street, as well as via local retailers such as The Cat’s Meow, Lamberts, Otto’s, Coffee Dominion and IGA.
“Everyone is welcome to come and try our products and if you’d like a list of flavours, or to trial us in your cafe, you’re welcome to get in touch,” Jorge says.
“After all these years I’m still as passionate about food as ever. I even turned down an opportunity to lecture at TAFE in hospitality, which I’m sure I would’ve enjoyed, to remain in the industry.
“Matt and his fiancé Edith and brother Tim often come around to our house for beautiful meals and laughter. You can’t beat good food and good company.”