Brigit McKillop: Casa Pinocchio
A 1930s school house and a restaurant vision drew Scott and Birgit McKillop to Branxholm, north east Tasmania.
Having successfully run four Australian restaurants from Byron Bay to Noosa, Scott and Birgit McKillop were looking for a new restaurant venture that offered the quiet life. They found it in Branxholm, Tasmania, 10 minutes away from the mountain biking mecca of Derby.
German-born Birgit and Australian Scott McKillop have lived and worked in the hospitality industry all over the world. After meeting on a small Greek isle not far from Santorini, the couple spent many years living in Greece honing their skills in restaurants alongside passionate Italians. It was here that their love of Italian and Mediterranean cuisine developed.
After moving to Australia, the McKillops worked with some of the country’s best chefs including Phillip Johnson at Queensland’s Ecco Bistro. In Noosa, they worked in two well-loved institutions; Gary Skelton at Seasons Noosa and Leonie Palmer at Ricky Ricardo’s Deck Bar & Grill.
“After Noosa we opened our first Italian restaurant in Byron Bay. Since then we have had restaurants and cafes in New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia,” explains Birgit. “When we began to research our next step, it was an ABC television program on Derby that piqued our interest in Tasmania. We then came across an old school house advertised in Branxholm, immediately falling in love with it and purchasing it.”
The couple sold their Mornington Peninsula business and in early 2018 moved to Branxholm, a town on the Ringarooma River with less than 300 permanent residents, around 90 kilometres from Launceston.
They spent several months installing a commercial kitchen and renovating the former school house with Birgit’s creative flair having studied art in Germany and England, before Casa Pinocchio officially opened in November 2018. The petite 35-seat restaurant specialises in fresh, Italian dishes made to order with sauces, desserts and homemade pasta specials made onsite.
“Since moving here we haven’t looked back,” explains Birgit. “It’s a really nice balance. We close Monday and Tuesday, then open for dinner every other night of the week. On Sundays we also offer a lunch menu. We’ve found the mountain bike riders love a good feed of pasta, loading up on carbs before their next trail. We look after the locals, making sure they always get a table and we have plenty of regulars who enjoy picking up takeaway food.”
The McKillops had the opportunity to purchase a restaurant in Derby, but chose Branxholm instead because it was a more relaxed option. It’s a tight knit community and they are grateful when Derby eateries send the overflow their way, but they’re content operating their small Casa with its heritage-listed windows and cosy original fireplace. Casa Pinocchio’s excellent TripAdvisor reviews is a testament to the quality of the service they provide.
The couple use plenty of regional produce in their signature dishes, from local veal to fresh raspberries in Birgit’s desserts. The locals are also happy to grow specific produce for Casa Pinocchio including heirloom tomatoes and basil. True to the slow food movement of Italy, Scott and Birgit enjoy taking time to prepare everything from scratch whether it’s bread for bruschetta or soft morsels of gnocchi for the evening’s menu.
“The Dorset Council have been absolutely wonderful to work with,” says Scott. “They must be one of the most progressive councils we’ve had the pleasure of operating in. They’ve been so accommodating and supportive of our venture. It makes such a difference to be received in this way.”
Buying an affordable Tasmanian restaurant is a welcome change from paying large rent to a landlord interstate. It also means that Scott and Birgit have the freedom to close the restaurant doors during the slower winter months. And they’ve even been able to build a small house out the back, suitable for tourist accommodation or a manager’s residence.
“We still love to travel, so we pack up our caravan and take off with our dogs during winter,” explains Birgit. “Choosing Tasmania allows us that opportunity – we have no mortgage and our financial stress is gone. We’re looking forward to exploring more of Tasmania, with our next destination being South Arm near Hobart then onward to the mainland, where we can volunteer in the bushfire affected areas, investing our dollars there and hopefully lending a cooking hand.”
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For more about Casa Pinocchio
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