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Gavin King

TropicNow editor

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Massive deal signed for deluxe new restaurant at Cairns Aquarium

L'Unico co-founder sells his stake in the Trinity Beach institution to launch a huge new restaurant at the Cairns Aquarium, creating 50 new jobs in the process.


Nearly 50 new hospitality jobs will be created after one of the Tropical North’s best known restaurant owners today signed a 20-year lease to launch the new AquaLuna restaurant at Cairns Aquarium.

Gordon Kean sold his stake in Trinity Beach institution L’Unico to launch AquaLuna and sign a 20-year lease to run the Reef and Rainforest-inspired restaurant, catering for up to 220 diners at a time.

AquaLuna will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week and hire nearly 50 staff to help run the restaurant.

That takes the total number of jobs created by the new aquarium to over 130 full-time equivalent positions. 


Local chef Jarrod Donkin will lead the AquaLuna kitchen with a menu focused on seafood and Mediterranean cuisine.

A 70,000 litre black tip reef shark tank and a recreated jetty will be the restaurant’s visual centrepiece, while a substantial outdoor undercover seated area will overlook a professionally landscaped Daintree rainforest themed setting.

Construction of the $50 million Cairns Aquarium is on track for completion in April, with a month-long commissioning process to follow.

This commissioning period will include filling the aquarium tanks, achieving appropriate water chemistry and quality, testing all plumbing, fixtures, fittings, equipment, and introducing the species in an appropriate order and manner prior to opening to the public.

Mr Kean said he had wanted to be part of the aquarium from its inception.

“Ever since I heard that there was going to be a world class aquarium in Cairns, I just had to be part of it,” he said.

“As a lover of quality food and memorable dining experiences, for me this is about making sure that visitors to Cairns enjoy an incredible meal as part of their interaction with mesmerising underwater sceneries at the Cairns Aquarium.”

Cairns Aquarium CEO and founder Daniel Leipnik said the aquarium had considered running the restaurant internally, but a collaborative partnership with Gordon and Jarrod was an “easy decision”.

“Since we announced the start of the project, Gordon approached us almost monthly and was adamant on being involved,” Mr Leipnik said.

"Originally, we were going to operate the restaurant and function centre as an internal component of the overall Aquarium business but after receiving so many proposals and analysing the capabilities that successful local restauranteurs offer, it became a strategic decision to enter into a lease agreement and longer term partnership.

“Gordon’s passion and proven experience stood out.”

Gordon said AquaLuna represented a significant new investment in the Cairns economy.

The gamble has already started to pay off, with a 220-guest function booked for the Queensland Training Awards on 14 July. A further five functions between July and October are currently being negotiated.

“We are installing over $500,000 of brand new commercial grade stainless steel cooking equipment into the kitchen and outdoor bar and a further $150,000 in interior fitout,” he said.

“We expect the Aquarium to be the single busiest attraction in Cairns with a projected 722,000 visitors in the first year and we will be ready to provide exceptional meals to aquarium patrons as well as restaurant goers looking for a special aquatic experience outside of Aquarium opening hours.”