Vlado's legacy - and perfect steaks - live on

May 24 2022 - 5:00am
Doug Petrivic, Michael Gregurek, Nina Gregurek (Vlado's widow), Eli Valkovic and Peter Wills at Vlado's Steakhouse. Photo: Morgan Hancock
Doug Petrivic, Michael Gregurek, Nina Gregurek (Vlado's widow), Eli Valkovic and Peter Wills at Vlado's Steakhouse. Photo: Morgan Hancock

Barrister Michael Gregurek's real first name is Vladislav but he has always gone by his middle name - "because we already had Vlado".

With the legendary steakhouse owner gone for 10 years now and the manager who took over from him recently retiring, Vladislav junior has reluctantly moved into the role of overseeing his father's 58-year-old Bridge Rd restaurant.

While staff working there for decades run the place like the well-oiled institution it is, there are regulations to comply with and bills to be paid.

After the long closure of the first Melbourne lockdown when the former manager retired, it was touch and go whether it would open again.

"When the announcement came that businesses could reopen again, we had no-one, so it was just a question of whether or not to do it, " Michael says.

Aside from replacing the ageing life-size dining room wall photo of cows in a paddock with a collage commemorating his father, Michael hasn't shaken anything up.

The set menu of sausage, steak, side salad and strawberry pancake and the long wine list biased heavily towards reds is much as Vlado left it.

In its heyday in the '70s and '80s the place was so popular people would queue outside before its 6pm opening.

The photos of famous diners from around the world still cover the walls, and big names, who have been eating there for decades, continue to frequent the steakhouse.

The restaurant has always been known for a timeless integrity, and its top quality cuts are still cooked to perfection to customers' instructions over a charcoal grill and served on white tablecloths.

"What Vlado put on your plate was a reflection of what he did, so it had to be as perfect as possible," Michael says.

"When he first started off, he basically cooked nearly every shift then went and did his own shopping at the Footscray market, at 2.30 in the morning, so he could pick out the best vegetables for the business.

"It was that post-war European work ethic."

Surprisingly, for someone known to be circumspect, Vlado had started his working life back in Croatia as a comedian and was so successful he was presented with an award by Yugoslavian leader Marshall Tito.

After contracting laryngitis and never fully recovering his voice, he switched to journalism, which gave him the opportunity to flee the communist dictatorship under the guise of travelling for an interview.

"When I asked him why he fled once ... he said to me, 'I would have either become one of them, or they would have killed me'. That always stuck in my mind," Michael says.

His parents, who arrived with only a suitcase, had already been to Queensland to cut cane by the time the five-year-old arrived in Australia with his grandparents aboard the migrant ship SS Conte Grande.

As well as being hardworking, his father was "fiercely honest and decent" and helped a lot of people without mentioning it, his son says.

"For years he put on an annual free lunch for the pensioners of Richmond and every Christmas he'd cook a big barbecue for the local Alcoholics Anonymous group."

Despite the difficulty of juggling it with his day job and the fact it doesn't pay a cent, Michael, who has two adult children who work there, says he is running Vlado's for the sake of his mother, the staff and his father's legacy.

"As long as enough people enjoy the place, we'll try and keep it going as long as possible," he says.


Jenny Denton


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