Restaurant pioneer served up an interesting life
Her name sounds suitably glamorous given Fifi Le-Roy’s second home used to be stylish and plush restaurants that were the talk of the town.
Fifi, who lives at the Carinity Elim Estate retirement village in Ipswich, was the first woman to manage major restaurants in Brisbane.
During a 45-year career in the hospitality industry Fifi operated restaurants and worked in hotels in three countries.
“It was odd for a woman to run a restaurant in those days. I was managing big restaurants all my life so I know about people, I talked to people and that was my life,” Fifi says.
“I operated a very well-known restaurant right in the middle of Brisbane city called Top of the State, the first revolving restaurant in Queensland.”
Located on the top floor of Brisbane’s then tallest building, the restaurant boasted dazzling views, had a revolving dance floor and was popular with business people and celebrities such as David Bowie.
“In my days there not just everybody could go to a place like that, it was quite expensive,” Fifi says.
“The whole restaurant revolved and there was music every night, big bands. The building didn’t revolve so people couldn’t understand how the restaurant revolved.
“In my day the customer was always right. Whether they were wrong or not they were always right, no matter what.”
Born in Sudan to Egyptian parents, Fifi moved to Australia in the early 1950s.
“When I came to Australia, I was 22 years old and I started in the industry straight away with the old Lennon’s Hotel, which was the only real hotel in Brisbane,” Fifi says.
Lennon’s was Brisbane’s hotel of choice for VIPs with everyone from Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith, opera singer Dame Nellie Melba, US President Lyndon Johnson and The Beatles staying and dining there.
By the time she retired at the age of 67, Fifi had managed restaurants in Queensland, Sydney, Athens and Papua New Guinea.
“I worked in hotels, I worked in pubs, I worked everywhere because I wanted to learn about the business. That was in my mind from the start,” Fifi says.
“That’s how you learn, you have you work in the industry to tell you how it is. The books don’t tell you very much.
“You have to be dedicated and have no husband, no children and you have to have about 20 hours in a day to give. I was very dedicated. It was a big life.”