The June long weekend had just finished when Stella on Henley Beach quietly shut their doors to begin a transformation. The doors hadn’t shut since 1995, when the building and the business was started from scratch by original owners Rob & Cath, bringing authentic Italian fare to the beach front in an area that was still very much finding its feet.
Fast forward to 2015 as new owner Annie Jiang took the reigns of the building. The legacy of the previous twenty years and the relationship that Stella shared with the local community was at the fore of her mind as plans for a re-fit began to form. These plans were momentarily put on hold though, as Henley Square itself underwent a face lift.
“Once the square renovations were complete, we saw the local community begin to come out more often. They were bringing their pets and their family and just enjoying the space,” begins Annie. “We were talking to the locals and starting to learn more about the history of the restaurant ourselves, so when we shut in June our goal was clear. We wanted to honour the history of the venue, to build upon the good food that was already being served and continue to the story. Not to completely revamp the building and make it trendy, but to retain the culture and respect the community already built around it.”
Holding their cards very close to their chest, Stella quietly reopened on Monday this week. Inside, the coat of paint is more than just fresh. They’ve taken the shell and the strengths of the existing space and brought truly made them shine. Light timber sweeps across the floors, complimented by a similar texture and shade palate for the dining setting. This is balanced by soft yellow and two tone grey tiling to the bar, highlighting shades of stone and marble which are further accentuated by the fireplace. Splashes of considered coppers, green and red tastefully draw your eye to different parts of the dining room, which feels refreshed and seems to showcase stunning ocean views in a new light. The Amalfi Coast comes to mind when you soak in the atmosphere, and even at capacity you can feel that the murmur of conversation will never detract from the sense of calm and relaxed Australian beach vibe that is on offer.
The authentic Italian cuisine remains as well for all meal, but with extra emphasis on presentation to compliment the homely flavours. Reopening in the winter months has been a deliberate decision by the Stella team, as they feel they want the opportunity to begin to write the next chapter of the business without the rush of the warmer weather.
“We are still working on things,” Annie explains, “which is why we wanted to reopen quietly. All of the staff have commented that this feels like a new restaurant, when we think we’d expected in some ways to just come back to work. But this is a transition, and all changes take time to bed in. We’re relearning and wanting to re-emphasise the cornerstones of good hospitality in our food, our service overall operatyions. We will ensure the legacy of Stella remains intact, but we don’t expect to have everything right just yet. We’re working towards September and October before we really begin to push things to the public. Everything up until then, even though we’re open, is about us getting ready.”
Stella have taken the opportunity to modernise as the community and the food and drink culture of Henley Beach does the same. The natural flow between indoors and outdoors for dining and leisure, as well as the still community based feel of the square, its surrounds and the traders is beginning to emerge as a quite remarkable melting pot. Their events calendar is also beginning to look full all year round and it seems that the move by Stella to prepare for their next chapter while the future of Henley Beach is also being written may retrospectively appear a true moment of serendipity.
For now though, the reopened Stella are working hard towards confirming themselves as a restaurant that Henley Beach will be proud of, both now and into the future.