Eatery back in business after Covid pause

Darren Lovell. File photo
Darren Lovell. File photo
A long-time staple of Queenstown’s dining scene is about to emerge from a brief hibernation.

Seafood restaurant Fishbone is reopening on Thursday after a Covid-induced pause in trading.

Owner Darren Lovell closed the Beach St eatery last August, opening in its place Love Chicken The Pop-up, an offshoot of his Queenstown Central outlet.

Lovell tells Mountain Scene The Pop-up’s performed well, but ‘‘$15 burgers are never going to pay the rent in downtown Queenstown’’.

He’s honed down Fishbone’s menu to ‘‘short and simple’’ to ensure he can deliver on its long-time mantra of ‘‘the freshest fish in New Zealand’’.

It was the increasing difficulty of meeting that promise that prompted him to put Fishbone on ice in the first place, he says.

As a buyer of fish straight off the boats, he has to order a significant quantity, meaning he has to get enough customers through the door every day to sell it.

With international visitors making up three-quarters of his customers pre-Covid, that became a whole lot harder last year, so he’s relying on the new menu to meet that challenge in 2021.

Lovell, who became the restaurant’s head chef in 2005 before buying it the following year, says he’s not getting his hopes up about a trans-Tasman bubble any time soon, and thinks it could be at least two years before overseas visitors start returning in significant numbers.

He’s also gutted about having to let go of staff — from 19 a year ago to only two from this week.

But with Love Chicken trading well in Frankton, he’s determined to keep working hard, ‘‘run as lean as we can’’, and maintain a degree of optimism.

‘‘We’ve just got to hope for the best.’’

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