Top Menu

Coles Cafeteria, Balfours and The Buttery

Cole’s Cafeteria, Balfour’s Tea Rooms, the Buttery at John Martins and Cox Foy’s Dining Room. Long before the fast food chains arrived in Adelaide, the main emporiums and department stores catered for their customers with a cafeteria style dining room offering the ‘fast food’ of the day.

Ahhh! The memories! To a kid, on a rare shopping ‘trip to town’ with mum and grandma, it was heaven on a stick to be able to choose mains, desert, a drink and to eat something not home-made for a change.

Photo from ARW. To a young child Coles Cafeteria was indeed a wondrous place. It always seemed so large, so many tables and so crowded.

Photo from ARW. To a young child Coles Cafeteria was indeed a wondrous place. It always seemed so large, so many tables and so crowded.

To a young child Coles Cafeteria was indeed a wondrous place. It always seemed so large, so many tables and so crowded. There was a plastic tray which you pushed along the shelf and in front of you the bain marie full steaming hot food, served by the matronly ladies in their her white Coles coats, always offering a large dollop of gravy, “Gravy with that love?”, “Sauce is at the end of the counter dear” and “Lovely manners sweetie”.

Next would be a drink, lemonade perhaps or a milk shake and then of course sweets. I loved my banana splits or mixed sundaes but I always felt more grown up if I selected the trifle because I knew it had a little bit of sherry in it.

Finally, we’d reach the cash register where mum would pay with cash while it was my job to collect the cutlery and then back to the little booth for the feast.

Photo from Baytram 366 on Flickr. For many it was Balfour’s Tea Rooms in Rundle Street. In 1972 the shop was said to be the busiest in the southern hemisphere.

Photo from Baytram 366 on Flickr. For many it was Balfour’s Tea Rooms in Rundle Street. In 1972 the shop was said to be the busiest in the southern hemisphere.

For many it was Balfour’s Tea Rooms in Rundle Street. In 1972 the shop was said to be the busiest in the southern hemisphere. I know that people still talk about Balfour’s Tea Rooms today and tell their children and grandchildren about it.

One of our posters, Janet Randell reminisced, “It was such a big deal to go into ‘town’ to shop. Always dressed up and if we were good, went to Balfours for a frog cake! Talking 1950’s here”, while Barb Jamieson wrote “We lived in Broken Hill then, and Adelaide was our annual holiday destination. We always made the trip from Semaphore to the city at least once, and Balfours was always on our agenda.

For Selwyn McCormick it was John Martins cafeteria which was originally in the basement in the late 50s and 60s, “They made a great savoury mince on toast, never been able to copy it, it was great after the Pageant which I was in 4 times while working there. We would all end up down there for a snack, certainly great days. The Buttery from memory was opened early 70s, much more modern for its day but unfortunately never had the same atmosphere.”

Other readers chimed in with recollections, Cox Foys with the roof top funfair where you could get fairy floss after eating in the cafeteria or the old railway station cafeteria where Gail Lane used to eat often; “In the 70s I’d have an egg on toast and a pot of tea for breakfast before starting work at Adelaide Uni. It always seemed so warm and welcoming on a cold winter morning!

In those days Coles variety stores had all of their products on counters with little glass petitions and ladies in the middle to serve you. Little toys, pencils, notebooks, rubbers (we were allowed to call them rubbers then), sharpeners and lollies, powder compacts, nail varnish and lipsticks. All the Embassy or Starlet brand. Every purchase was put in to a paper bag which crinkled enticingly on the bus all the way home. I believe that I had my first white coffee there with my mum when I was 16. I now work with the elderly and they have so many stories about Coles Cafeterias”.

What are some of your childhood memories of those department store cafeterias?

, ,

23 Responses to Coles Cafeteria, Balfours and The Buttery

  1. Chris Kozikas January 11, 2015 at 7:09 pm #

    To this day I still pride myself on “beating the queue” just as Mum did in Coles cafeteria some 50 years ago it seemed soooooo posh for a girl from the southern suburbs back then

  2. Jennifer Galipo January 11, 2015 at 9:03 pm #

    I too remember Balfours and John Martins cafeterias. Great times which I tell my 40 yrs and over daughters and teenage grandchildren

    • Janice Chambers January 12, 2015 at 8:36 am #

      I loved my visits to town as a child with mum and grandma. The highlight was lunch at Coles cafeteria and jelly with a dob of cream on top. We normally ended the day with purchasing a Boston bun with fresh cream to take home from Rix bakery near the corner of King William Street

    • Christine Allen January 12, 2015 at 10:30 am #

      I worked in John Martins buttery back in the ’70s it was a great place, christmas parties leading up to the Pagent and even being in the Pagent, I have such wonderful memorie.

      • Tim Bishop January 2, 2022 at 10:44 am #

        Hi Christine

        I have such magical memories of the Buttery from when I was a child. Are you able to tell me what floor it was on. I cant seem to find out much about it.

        Your sincerely


  3. Judi Hirst January 12, 2015 at 7:04 am #

    Fond memories of the Buttery in the 70’s. On my way home from Uni I would meet my grandfather for a cup of tea and a streudel bun served with butter. He was the Head Buyer for dress materials at Johnnies and I was training to become a Home Economics teacher.

  4. Ken January 12, 2015 at 9:16 am #

    Good memories…my Mum used to take us to Cox Foys, sometimes after going to the Magic Cave.
    It was always an exciting trip to look forward to. Mum called cappuccino coffee “frothy coffee!”.

  5. Janette Matthews January 12, 2015 at 1:02 pm #

    what wonderful photos – I have fabulous memories of going to Cox Foys for lunch and having fair rides. I also worked at the Coles Cafeteria part-time job twice a week during my last few years of high school. The job gave me great grounding to continue my schooling and gain full time employment. I have had many chuckles when I hear teenagers complain about working part-time and what’s expected of them and enjoy telling them about my role in the Coles Cafeteria I use to ‘clean an industrial size sink full of the the prongs of the chicken rotisseries with a toothbrush’ it was at this age 14 that I learnt about making goals in all areas of my life – my first goal was to be able to work out on the floor to collect the dirty dishes as I’m a social soul and my job had very little people interaction – what fabulous memories – thank you

    • Sandra Price April 19, 2016 at 10:51 pm #

      I worked at Coles Cafeteria also washing those chicken prongs in a bleach, with rubber gloves. Horrible job. The best part was when Apple pie, Cheese cake, Pavlova and huge tub of whipped cream were devoured by all in the kitchen before being thrown into Hungry Jack, the food disposal! Sandra

  6. Penelope Seekamp January 12, 2015 at 4:36 pm #

    Balfours also had Tea rooms in King William Street, just around the corner from Rundle Street. Our Wedding reception was there in October 1965.

  7. becky lee January 13, 2015 at 12:26 am #

    having a pie on white plates at the train station before heading home to elizabeth ,the smells the noise of cutlery on the plates,mum and dad would have a pot of tea and i had a glass of milk,or later when dad passed mum and i would have lunch at the post office,what memories !

  8. Sandra Thorman January 13, 2015 at 6:27 am #

    oh yes I remember Coles cafeteria. The school holiday outing was called “going to town”. We dressed in our best clothes including a hat and gloves and after the shopping it was lunch at Cokes Cafeteria for the 1950’s version of fast food. The desserts always looked like colourful jewels in their parfait glasses. Especially the jellied fruit, such a treat. Sometimes Mum had to walk down the end of Rundle street to pay the electricity bill so we would be taken across the road from Myers and settled in the Metro picture theatre where the ran newsreels in a continuous loop, for an hour while Mum did her messages. There was no DJ’s next to Myers in those days it was Chas Birks where you sat on a wooden chair next to the counter to conduct your business. The favourite lunch spot when we grew out of jelly desserts was of course Balfours and a frog cake after our pastie for lunch. I have lived on the Eastern Seaboard since 1965 and they can’t and won’t do pasties here. I make a passable version but always make time for a pastie whenever I go back to my home town.

  9. Dee Brooks January 13, 2015 at 11:03 am #

    Hi, wondering if you have any information on I think it was called the Bohemian. It was downstairs off North Tce, dark, all White linen, I have a memory of china donkeys and carts and rubber fake grapes. This was in the 50’s. We would get the Bluebird train from the Mid North and go there for lunch before Millers &Moore’s. I seem to think it was near James Place. I remember the bars at pavement level where you could see people’s shoes outside. They did the best whiting and iced coffee! Any info? Cheers.

  10. Bee Harrison January 13, 2015 at 1:04 pm #

    I remember the schools’ chess competitions in the John Martin’s Buttery after-hours. Very exciting to be going into the shop when it was closed! I also remember the Quality Inn on Grenfell St, which was at basement level. It was fun to sit near the window and watch the feet of passers-by. One of my aunts wouldn’t eat anywhere else! My grandmoter liked the small cafes on each floor in the corner of David Jones – it might have been Birks in those days. I can remember catching the tram to town with her and my mother, and making a day of it, which always included lunch in one of those cafes. They each had a name and a distinct character. Does anyone remember what they were called?

  11. b.collins March 12, 2015 at 2:11 pm #

    I remember craft activities in Myer cafeteria on Saturday mornings for children. Must have been early 60’s. Basket-weaving was my specialty and I loved receiving certificates for my work.

  12. E.White March 18, 2015 at 10:11 pm #

    What wonderful childhood memories of lunch at Coles Cafeteria during school holidays. We would meet my dear Nanna outside of Coles, then up we’d all go in the lift to the Cafeteria, Mum, Nanna, me and my younger brother. There was a male lift attendant who would take you safely up to the Cafeteria, (He was still working the lift when I rode in it with my baby daughter in 1975!)
    i remember the constant clanking of the cutlery. Mum and Nanna would always have a mixed sandwich and of course a pot of tea. Pies and pasties seemed to smell and taste so much better then. And we always had to sit quietly with our very best manners on board.

    • Lynne stupple April 10, 2023 at 6:22 pm #

      We were chatting about this only today. Coles cafeteria is mentioned in a book I am reading. It mentions the cafeteria being on the sixth floor, I’m remembering it being on the first floor, as I would take the stairs. Cox Foys was on the sixth floor (we could see our house from there).

  13. Tina June 30, 2015 at 5:48 pm #

    I have such fond memories of John Martins. Especially The Buttery…It was so special to go with my Mum and siblings to this busy huge eatery….so many tables and sometimes still difficult to find one free. We would walk along with our trays, choosing yummy sandwiches, chips and gravy, jelly and cakes etc….milkshakes and cups of tea

    • Paul Michael Varney May 28, 2018 at 6:14 am #

      My mum always took me to Coles too in the early 70’s in my tie dye shirts and weird trousers of the day. Used to talk to Tina whilst there hence reply. Paul

  14. Michelle Farrar February 28, 2019 at 5:43 pm #

    I too used to love going to Coles Cafeteria with my Mum in the early 70s too. It was the highlight of going in to town. Does anyone remember the soft serve ice-cream known as “Dairy Snow” which the Coles variety store used to sell in the early 1970s? That recipe was utterly the best. I wish there were somewhere today that had that exact same recipe as a soft serve.

  15. Anne Marlow May 9, 2020 at 6:03 pm #

    My Granddad has his newspaper stand at the Main Entrance to John Martins

  16. Dave Holliday June 22, 2022 at 1:05 pm #

    I worked as a stock boy in the John Martin’s 3rd floor Buttery as a 16 yo before starting my apprenticeship as an electrician.

    I worked there in 1970 for six months and the ladies and gentlemen that worked there were very kind and looked after me.
    I remember Miss Betterman who was the Manageress, Dot Crook, Pam Griffiths (aka Sammy) and Tom McGinn the Chef.
    Great memories……… Does anyone know or remember Pam (or Sam) Griffiths?

    • Gail April 18, 2023 at 9:15 pm #

      Hi Dave, Pam is my sister and we were just going down memory lane which is why I have come across your comment. Pam remembers you well. Hope you are going ok

Leave a Reply