Dumbo, a 90s NYC-inspired burger bar from the Red Hook crew, is opening at Portside Wharf

Later this year, the team responsible for one of Brisbane City’s most beloved burger joints will look to replicate its success with a new Brooklyn-inspired sibling – this time taking shape over at Portside Wharf. Happy Fat Group – the crew behind Red Hook – will open Dumbo in September, adding a sliver of New York’s signature laneway and bar culture to the surging riverside precinct. Here’s what we know …
Jun 21, 2024, updated Jun 21, 2024

This August, Red Hook will turn ten. A decade of trade is a massive innings for any hospitality concept, but especially so for a tiny laneway burger joint that opened right as Brisbane’s obsession with stacked two-handers started to kick into overdrive.

“I think when we initially opened it was prime time for burgers,” recalls Tom Sanceau, one of the founders of Happy Fat, the group behind Red Hook, Ruby, My Dear, COPPA and a string of other heralded concepts. “Everyone was talking about burgers and it was really quite good timing – Brisbane was really just opening up and booming with a lot more food and beverage options.”

As Brisbane’s burger scene exploded and fads rapidly emerged and faded, Red Hook remained a beacon of consistency – enduring through the years (including a pandemic) as a popular grub spot for inner-city denizens. What’s the secret to its success?

“[Red Hook] is more than just another burger joint – we are not limited to burgers,” says Happy Fat’s other head honcho Bonnie Shearston. “We serve New York street food and American food, but also we have a strong focus on the cocktails and service. It’s a little bit more sophisticated and elevated than your average sort of go-to burger joint and I think that has set us apart as more of a destination restaurant.”

Bonnie and Tom have flirted with the idea of expanding Red Hook over the years, and soon – roughly one month after Red Hook’s birthday – they’ll finally be doing just that. In September the Happy Fat group will open Dumbo at Portside Wharf in Hamilton, joining other soon-to-open eateries SbagliataThe Ballpark and Portside Social as part of the next stage of the precinct’s ongoing $20-million redevelopment program.

Dumbo (named after iconic Brooklyn neighbourhood, Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass) will see the Happy Fat team drawing inspiration from the storied laneway and bar culture of New York once more. Not content to merely duplicate Red Hook in another part of Brisbane, Tom and Bonnie are eager to tailor Dumbo to its waterfront surroundings.

“We don’t want to be another chain of burger restaurants – we want to be a group of American and New York street-food restaurants,” says Bonnie. “The fit-outs don’t resemble each other – each one has its own sense of individuality. That’s why we’ve decided to name each one after a different neighbourhood in Brooklyn. You’ll know you are in one of the Happy Fat burger restaurants, but each one will have its own personality and its own offering to suit its location.”

Dumbo will reside in a 121-sqm space opposite Fosh, with a slick fit-out set to evoke the gritty charm of the New York dining scene circa the 1990s. Boasting a footprint bigger than its inner-city cousin, Tom and Bonnie are relishing the opportunity to deliver an offering that mixes Red Hook’s core range with some new light and fresh options.

“We’ve been incredibly limited to what we can do [at Red Hook] over the years,” says Tom. “The kitchen at Portside is four times the size of the kitchen we’ve currently got, so it’ll potentially give us the option to expand our offering.”

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“The core favourites will be the same, so you can walk in and get a Brooklyn Cheeseburger at Dumbo or at Red Hook and it’s going to be exactly the same amazing quality,” adds Bonnie. “At Red Hook there’s such a strong focus on our lunch trade, but we’re not going to have that over at Portside. So how do we tailor the lunch offering to be more suited to that crowd? We’re going to do a really strong bagel offering, which again is another New York street food, but it’s not necessarily something that we’d offer in the city.”

Dumbo will continue Red Hook’s legacy of serving sensational drinks, with a boosted beverage menu featuring an extensive wine list (focusing on minimal-intervention vino), a small, concise and playful cocktail menu, and craft beers from local and international breweries.

As cost-of-living pressures increase, Dumbo will arrive at a pivotal time where diners are looking to make their money stretch further.

“Tom and I both realised that the times are tough at the moment – it’s hard to go out and spend two, three, $400 on a meal these days and still make ends meet when it comes to all the household bills,” says Bonnie. “We want to still encourage people to go out and dine, but give an offering that doesn’t break the bank every time you want to go out.”

Dumbo is slated to open in September – stay tuned for more details.

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