Coles Cafeteria

During the 1930s Coles opened Australia’s first in-store cafeterias and a visit to the Coles café became a popular family outing. The Coles Bourke Street flagship store  was opened in 1928 and traded until 1987.

Coles Cafeteria, Bourke St, Melbourne (Circa 1953). Photo courtesy State Library of Victoria

The highlight of a trip to Melbourne during the school holidays was lunch at “Coles Cafeteria”. I can still hear the lift attendant announcing “Level 6 – Cafeteria” as the elevator came to an abrupt stop &

the heavy doors jolted open. As you neared this floor you could to hear the loud chink of crockery, the delicious aroma of your lunch approaching & the loud hum of shoppers chatting. When you entered, the noise increased tenfold & you were transported into a hectic frenzy of fast moving food. The enormous dining hall was crammed full of green laminated tables constantly being cleared of dishes & wiped down by Coles ladies in white coats with matching hats. As soon as we arrived, Mum’s eyes were scanning the hall for an empty table. If she spotted one I was immediately parked in a seat with all our parcels, while Mum went & stood in the queue with our tray. More often than not, we had to share a table with strangers, getting a whole table to yourself was a rare event.

The food was good & the prices were cheap. There was roast beef, chicken casserole, trays of roast vegies, sandwiches, cakes & lots more. Coles Fish & Chips were incredibly tasty with the crunchiest golden batter I’d ever eaten. The accompanying chips were hot & salty & served out with a large metal scoop. All meals were served up on thick white plates & cups with green patterned edging. My favorite part of the meal was “Frog in the Pond” – a clear plastic cup filled with jelly (red or green) with a chocolate frog inserted in the middle, surrounded by a few smarties & a dollop of cream. They also made the best “banana splits” with lots of chocolate topping & a generous sprinkling of chopped nuts & cream. No meal was complete without a creamy, fizzing “Lime Spider”.


42 Replies to “Coles Cafeteria”

  1. My mother took my sister and myself to the Coles Cafeteria whenever we travelled on the train to the city (Melbourne) during school holidays as our trip to town. Like many others we headed to the windows overlooking Bourke Street and Myers opposite to find a vacant table after clambering up the long and doglegged staircase from the ground floor past the weighing machine. I looked forward to sausage rolls and tomato sauce with a cube of jelly topped with a big bud of whipped cream on top as dessert. The jelly cubes were sometimes two layers of different colours and flavours or a foamed jelly base and clear jelly on top and on occasion a ribbon of custard through the middle. There were the tubular chrome chairs and tables, the art deco tiles and signs saying if you needed assistance ask the pink lady. Although at times we tried the Foy’s Cafeteria and the Myer Cafeteria the Coles Cafeteria was my favourite because of those wonderful jellies which suited a young kid’s unadventurous taste buds. No chicken nuggets back then as chicken was only for special occasions such as Sunday roasts, while KFC and McDonalds were decades away in the future.

    1. Great memories Peter! I also loved Coles Cafeteria in Melbourne, it was a School Holiday treat to be taken there on the train with mum. I think mum actually loved it as much as I did, she always seemed excited to be there!

    2. Loved going into Coles with my mother in the late 60s simple satisfying food and always a treat miss those days 😊

  2. My friend’s Aunty used to take us on the 59 tram to the Melbourne Coles cafeteria in the 60’s.
    It was wonderful, like a dream for me. I used to put the pikelets with jam and cream on my tray and I was in heaven.
    Buying swap cards at Coles afterwards just topped off the day.
    Great childhood memories stay with us forever and are so important.
    I just hope kids today are experiencing something equivalent.

  3. I use to work for this Coles store in the early 70’s and on pay day my friend and I would meet here for lunch love these photos brings back so many good memories

    1. Wow Marjory that’s amazing! I’m sure it was an interesting place to work & an era which has now gone completely. Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us!

  4. liverpool sydney early 1970s lunch with my mum while she shopped late night shopping thursday dinner with the whole family. loved it so much. both parents dec now ,good honest memories

  5. Growing up in Canberra in the 1970s, I used to go to “Civic” (the city) with my Granny every week when I was small. She would get some money from the Building Society, go and have her hair set, and then we would go to Coles New World for lunch. We’d share a ham and salad sandwich, I would have lemonade and Granny would buy a pot of tea. I looked forward to the white bread, which was always very fresh. It all seemed so modern, clean and shiny. I felt like Royalty. Invariably, Granny would see someone sitting on their own and invite them to join us. It was always a special occasion!

  6. I have great Memories of the Coles Cafeterias as a child in the 1950’s ! I also loved their meat pies, with mash, peas and gravy ! The flapjacks with jam and cream ! The special lady in Blue and the one in PINK who you went to if a problem arose! and the mechanical dumbwaiter that took the dishes away upstairs !!

  7. Trying to obtain info regardinga coles cafateria in swanston st near corner of flinders st. Rumours are that an original water lift was once used this caferteria was located whete arthur daleys is currently located same location was mcdonalds in 1970s

    1. Can’t remember a Coles cafeteria there but do remember the Classic restaurant there. There is /was young and jackson’s, then the Classic slipper shop, then the Classic restaurant with cubicle seating and a rather grandish staircase on the southern side that lead to a more upmarket restaurant. Both the slipper shop and the restaurant were run by the same Greek family. One of the senior women sat in an elevated desk keeping an eye on everything and collecting the money.This was early 1960’s. I don’t know exactly when, but McDonalds took over the spot.

    2. Hi Tim, I was reminiscing with my husband about Coles Cafeterias in the 1950’s but no one (except me) can remember the one in Swanson Street. It was downstairs and everyone sat on red leather swivel chairs at a long counter. I think they only served snacks but my memory was of having crumpets and honey. It was an absolute treat. I’m interested to hear if anyone else remembers it.

      1. I remember going as a child to the Coles Cafeteria, which was downstairs on Swanson Street, Melbourne. I’d go with my Mum, as a huge treat, and we’d sit at the long, curved counter on swivel chairs, reminiscent of an American diner. I remember the place more than the food, but I think we had waffles. Does anyone else remember the downstairs cafeteria? I’m 64 so my memories would be from the very early 1960’s

  8. I used to visit the Coles Cafeteria in Adelaide. It was a highlight of the trip into town. Such a great day out! My Mum and I used to catch the tram into the city. We would meet my sister in town. I always had a strawberry or chocolate milkshake and my sister used to get cross with me because I always squished the straw closed at the end! lol

  9. I remember going to the Perth one when my Aunt took me to the movies. Every time i got the same thing a bowl of chips and a plate of pancakes with jam and cream… I would love to know how they made the cream because it was the best i have ever tasted. and the pancakes if anyone knows the recipe i would love that too

  10. Millie
    August 18, 2016 6.30pm
    Yes it was a wonderful place to eat – and the best Banana Splits and milkshakes – a real treat to have lunch when visiting the city. I worked in Footscray in the late 1960s so
    used to have lunch in Coles Caf then – loved it. Also lived in Footscray in the late 70s
    but moved out when it started losing its European flavour. Footscray was then called ‘The Gem of the West’ Will it ever be again?? Hope so.

  11. The Coles Cafeteria in Brisbane City was still open in January 1990 as my family had lunch there when we visited Brisbane.

    1. Yes Andrew, I used to love going there. Steak Pie with a pastry crust, roast veges, cauliflower cheese and cheesecake for dessert! At the bottom of the escalator was a milk bar with the best thickshakes!

  12. I have been looking at this for a few years now.
    Is there any chance of cafes going in coles these days?
    Love to be a manager of a few of these.
    As this is my role now with another company.
    Please email and let me know?

    Thank you


  13. I used to love the visits into ‘town’ with my mum and sister. We went to the Perth city Coles and I always chose a pie, orange juice and trifle. I’d love to get hold of the recipe for that delicious trifle if anyone can help ?

  14. I used to love the visits into ‘town’ with my mum and sister. We went to the Perth city Coles and I always chose a pie, orange juice and trifle. I’d love to get hold of the recipe for that delicious trifle if anyone can help ? Loved the whole experience.,

  15. I certainly remember the cafeterias and the confectionery section at the front of stores where we had to be served. Does anyone remember swiss caramels they were the nicest caramels in Australia, love to know if they are still available!

  16. Oh wow! I blogged about the Coles cafeteria today then decided to search for images and found your blog. I would have gone in the early 80s I think, as mum would take us there after our twice-yearly orthodontist appointments. My sister and I would always get the pie and chips, or chicken and chips from the Melbourne city Coles. I remember the experience more so than the actual space. I think we used to get jelly or trifle for dessert. This is a great article, thanks for the memories!

  17. I remember school holidays in the eightees with my brother and cousins. We took the tram to the city, watched a movie and them went to Coles for lunch. We always had a pie and chips. It was the best pie and chips I have ever had. Then we always finished our meal with a jelly cup. It was always a different colour every time we went. I loved grabbing the tray and steering it down the stainless steel bars…such great memories!

  18. I remember eating lunch at the coles cafeteria in Liverpool NSW every Thursday, shopping day, when i was younger.. my fave was the good old pie and chips and gravy… the gravy was the best!! It was always busy there, it was upstairs, you got up there on the escalator, as soon as we got there, mum would scan the place for a table, and i was pointed to it and made to sit there while she joined the line with the tray, and from reading the original post, that seems to be the normal thing that happened at coles cafes 🙂 hahah… memories!!!

  19. I fondly remember the old Coles Cafeterias, the food was second to none! I also remember the old Coles lolly bars at the front of every store, you could get a big bag full of chocolate sprinkles, chocolate buttons, choc bullets, jelly beans, jelly babies etc. for 20 cents (if you get the same amount at a cinema lolly bar today it would be 20 dollars!). The cafeterias were in the larger Coles stores, Victorian locations I remember include both Bourke St stores, Coburg, Frankston, Footscray, Dandenong, Geelong New World, Chadstone, Northland, Bendigo (where it was on a mezzanine floor), Albury and Shepparton (the one I went to as a kid). NSW had Sydney Pitt Street (where the mall is now), Sydney Liverpool & Pitt Street corner), and Hurstville. Care to add any others to the list?

  20. Me too! Late 1940’s and early 1950’s whenever mum took me to the city, usually to shop at Myers, Foy & Gibsons, Payne’s bon Marche and the Mutual Sore, we would alway have lunch at Coles Cafeteria and always tried to get a table by the window at the Bourke Street end looking out to Myers. As a 10 year old my standing order was a pie and sauce (the sauce came in a little glass container like a miniature chimney pot), and jelly with a dob of cream that came in a small glass dish on a stand. It was very noisy with the clatter of metal trays and tubular steel chairs being pushed on the tiled floor. I thought it was a marvellous place and the highlight of our day out.

  21. Those cafeterias sure do bring back memories. Just trying to remember if it was a Coles one out at Chadstone in the 70s. This was back when Chaddy was just Myers up one end (which had rides up on the roof at christmas?), then a single strip mall that had a plasticy roof over it. Up the other end of the mall was the Coles? which had the cafeteria.

    My mother used to know where a lot of cafeterias were in the city from different businesses or government offices that were dirt cheap and we would sneak into. I seem to remember something like the 8th floor of a post office building in Russel St for example.

    Oh, I would have been wearing my purpley treads as well 🙂

    1. Coles did have a cafeteria at Chadstone, my mum used to work there, they had light blue fittings with a big slurpee type cup elevated at the front

    2. I loved the hake, it had the most scrumptious orangey batter. And the Chaddy Myer cafeteria. I used to get a yummy drink called a Californian Blush and a toasted peanut butter and pineapple sandwich. Delicious for a six year old.

  22. With a few minor exceptions I could have written this piece myself. I would have been visiting in the 60s, and as an adult in the 70s with my own daughter. No trip to ‘the city’ was complete without a visit to Coles Cafeteria. I can’t remember what foods we ate, but I do remember it was thrilling to be allowed to choose what we wanted – although often we got ‘table minding’ duty too. Being a girl from the country it was an exciting day when we went to the city on our visits to Nan and Pop.

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