Opinion: End of an Era

Sunday, 15 November 2020 was the last day of trading for Sizzler Australia. After 35 years of operation, Sizzler closed its doors. No more cheese toast. No more salad bar. No more kids’ parties. No more stuffing lollies into mum’s bag to take home. No more steak, seafood, salad.

Many people will say “about time”. Sizzler was not a gourmet restaurant. It was just a notch above fast food. It was past its use-by date. It was outdated and tired.

But Sizzler is an important icon. It was more than just a restaurant. It was an institution. It taught many people to eat out. It was safe – no one cared if you used the wrong fork. It was popular – it had queues. Its mantra was: not a lot of time, not a lot of money, not fast food. And it appealed to multiple generations.

Now – I have to declare a conflict of interest – of sorts. I was the Director of Marketing for Sizzler Australia from 1997 to 2013. Sixteen years of the best time in my life. Part of the Collins Foods Group, it was like a family. It was an enjoyable and fun place to work, with many dedicated employees. Many were long-serving permanent employees. And many more were young people, working whilst studying for a degree in something else. But everyone was committed, and many stayed on, part-time, after they got careers elsewhere.

Sizzler was a place for everyone. And it welcomed everyone. Young and old. For birthdays, graduations, school functions, club gatherings and even weddings. It was a place where kids could be adults – serving themselves, making their own decisions, their own choices. And adults could be kids – soft serve with 100’s & 1000’s. It had something for everyone – the kids could help themselves, Mum could have a salad, Dad a steak and Nanna a glass of wine.

Sizzler was famous for pumpkin soup, potato skins and for its dessert bar. And, of course, for its iconic cheese toast.

Whenever you mentioned Sizzler to someone, even to people who had not been for many years, they always remembered two things – the famous Salad Bar and Sizzler’s special Cheese Toast.

The basic recipe for Sizzler Cheese Toast did not change since it originated in the USA more than 60 years ago. Thick sliced white bread, spread with a generous mix of parmesan and pecorino romano cheese with margarine, then toasted on a flat grill until golden brown on one side.

Cheese toast is a delicious blend of textures and flavours, with soft chewy bread on one side complemented by crisp toast on the other and, the subtle yeasted bread flavours contrasting with the sharp umami flavour of aged cheese. It was a special and unique flavour of Sizzler. It was served free with every meal and there are even websites devoted to Sizzler Cheese Toast with tens of thousands of fans around the world.

Sizzler was inter-generational. People came to Sizzler as kids – enjoying the freedoms it provided. And then when grown up, they brought their kids. It is full of memories and joyous times.

Sizzler enjoyed cult status. Even when the salad bars were temporarily shut down in 2006 due to a contamination scare, people brought their own salads to share with the steaks and seafood. They were not going to let their favourite place suffer.

Yet, slowly it got overtaken by other offerings. Sizzler did not become unpopular – but, like an aging maiden aunt, it became less important and we had other places to be. We promised we’d call back soon. But time got away from us. And the avocado on toast at the local café seemed better value. And you didn’t have to queue.

And then the COVID pandemic limited our promised visits even more. Buffets are no longer acceptable. And the assisted salad bar is not the same.

People say you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. Truth is, you knew what you had, you just never thought you’d lose it.

So, Sizzler has gone. But its legacy lives on in the cafés and small family restaurants we have all come to enjoy. Sadly, generations of kids will no longer be able to run wild and make their own sticky sundae concoctions. But for the past 35 years, Sizzler educated and entertained several generations. It was a rite of passage. The place for your first date without a parent. And it has trained thousands of young people in the art of hospitality, many of whom went on to open cafés and restaurants of their own – or used their people skills working with others in their future careers.

Last Friday I reminisced on ABC Radio with many past customers and staff telephoning in with their stories and fond memories. So many stories. So many fond memories. Memories of family outings. Childhood memories. One even, a final dinner request, for a dying relative.

Vale Sizzler. Thank you for the good times.

Jeremy Ryland

17 November 2020

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