After 62 years of Bavarian floor shows and buffet dining with the backing of yodelling and ticking clocks, Cuckoo Restaurant, one of Victoria's most colourful dining institutions, has closed for good.
This is the latest in a line of high-profile closures, including the original site of cult cafe the Hardware Societe, Lau's Family Kitchen in St Kilda, and in Sydney, two-hatted Momofuku Seiobo. But the closure of this kooky restaurant in Olinda the Dandenong Ranges represents the end of an entire genre of dining.
Originally built in 1914 as the Quamby cafe, Karin and Willi Koeppen bought the impressive chalet-like building in 1958. Willi, a German immigrant and ultimate trendsetter (he was host of Australia's first cooking show, The Chef Presents), had noted that Swedish smorgasbord restaurants were trending back in Europe and gifted Australia its first buffet restaurant, beating Sizzler to the punch.
The venue suffered a double hit from the pandemic. Its buffet offering, featuring towers of prawns, seafood salads, kraut and kransky was challenged by COVID-19 safety measures. And while the institution has remained a hit for Victorian families and a contingent of local regulars over its many decades, it relied heavily on the buses of international tourists who came to dance, drink steins and stick their notes of currency to the busily decorated walls.
In recent years, Daniella and Andrei Koeppen, the children of Willi and Karin Koeppen, took the reins of the business, and while there were some superficial upgrades, they preserved the restaurant's well-loved charms. Waiters continued to wear dirndls and lederhosen. Yodellers and accordion players provided Sunday entertainment, encouraging crowds to sing along and dance right up until the lockdowns last year.
There was no other restaurant like it in Victoria. And now there is none at all.