Goodbye to the Hills

Nikky with her daughter Shabana. Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS 230793_05

Mother-daughter duo Nikky Salgadoe and daughter Shabana Junaid will go down in the history books of the Dandenongs, having been the first people to open an Indian restaurant in the Hills over 20 years ago.

Saffron Cottage, having been the first non-takeaway restaurant to call Tecoma home, has become a much-loved destination for food-lovers across the Hills over its two decades – but the pair have decided it is “time to move on”.

Speaking to the Star Mail, Ms Junaid said The Saffron Cottage story began with a loving restoration of the township’s former tea rooms.

“Mum saw the old cottage, it was really run down and she fell in love with it. I was in Europe at the time and she called me and said ‘come back, I’ve found a restaurant for you’. I think I was on a flight the next week,” Shabana said.

Her mother, Ms Salgadoe, owned a restaurant in Boronia at the time, but soon after opening Saffron Cottage the duo realised they needed more hands on deck to keep up with the customers flocking through the doors. Ms Salgadoe sold her business in Boronia soon after, marking the first of many years of the mother and daughter working side-by-side at Saffron Cottage.

Reflecting back on the years, which include three moves and surviving a pandemic, Ms Junaid recalled how much things have changed in the township.

“When we opened, Tecoma was a drive through, blink and you’ll miss it town, not really a destination as such,” she said.

“There were no restaurants in Tecoma. It was us and a pizza shop and Noodle Box, but we were the first non-takeaway restaurant,” she said.

“Now it is lovely and has quite a buzzing, lively little strip of shops, so that is wonderful to see, it was nothing like that 20 years ago,” she said.

Ms Junaid said a lot changed for her and her mum when they lost the original Saffron Cottage building, which stood where McDonalds now stands. The landlords who owned it at the time also owned a number of surrounding buildings and sold after receiving an offer to sell the entire parcel.

She vividly recalls applications for a Coles supermarket to be built on the McDonalds site.

“That was a big thing in the Hills during our time,” she said.

As a result of the loss of lease, Ms Junaid and Ms Salgadoe moved Saffron Cottage to a new location further down the road on Burwood Highway.

“We took what we could from the old cottage and built this little replica. The original Saffron Cottage was a 120-seater and the one we moved to was around 26 seats.

“We had a lot of community support but when you go from 120 seats to under 30, you don’t have the same atmosphere or ambience, the food is good but by that time other restaurants had opened up so you kind of don’t have the same impact on the community as you used to have,” she said.

Saffron Cottage’s third move was two doors down, where it is currently located, with the bigger space meaning the restaurant could seat 40.

Ms Junaid said her mother was diagnosed with a health condition in 2012 and was told by doctors to “take a step back” to look after her health.

“But she didn’t, if anything we got busier, but we have decided it is now time for her to step back and follow doctor’s orders in looking after her health,” she said.

The current chef at Saffron Cottage will takeover as owner of the restaurant, while Ms Junaid will devote her time to Saffron on Kellets in Rowville.

“I don’t think mum will ever fully retire, but she won’t have to work as hard as she has been. She’s worked hard her entire life. I’ve told her she can just come in and chat to her customers and walk around with a glass of wine,” she laughed.

Ms Junaid said the family have seen second generations of community members come through the restaurant and have enjoyed “starting to see third generations”.

“I’ve gotten used to seeing kids I used to serve when they were kids and now they’re married and coming in with their own kids, it’s so nice to see those generations and people growing up,” she said.

The restaurant was such a hit that it took out Best Restaurant in the Yarra Ranges in 2007, amongst other awards.

“Being in that Hills area, everyone knows everyone and it’s always had that real community feel which is beautiful. That’s something we will definitely miss.

Holding back tears, Ms Junaid said the decision “is sad, but it is time to move on”. The pair will handover to the new owners from 29 March.

“It has been a great run. We love Tecoma. We have had some amazing memories,” she said.