News that St Kilda's Stokehouse is moving to the city in May while the Jacka Boulevard site is being rebuilt after the January 17 fire came as a surprise to staff at Comme, who will make way for the Stokehouse team. ''No one was expecting it but we're all understanding of the news,'' says Daniel Southern, who has headed the Comme kitchen since 2009.
He will remain at the Alfred Place site until it closes on April 20 and is unsure what he'll do after that.
In a statement, owner Frank van Haandel said: ''We thank Daniel for his understanding of the situation that we find ourselves in. We are very sad and very reluctant to let him go … Daniel has made an extremely significant contribution to Comme, and we have no doubt he will be snapped up by a respected operator in no time.''
Last October, Espresso reported van Haandel was going into business at Comme with Maurice Terzini, owner of Sydney's Icebergs, and his consultant chef Paul Wilson.
Terzini says he hasn't shut the door on the deal but has postponed it because of the Stokehouse's move to the Alfred Place site.
''I've spoken to Frank and I told him to do what he has to do and we'll regroup in a year's time,'' says Terzini. ''You can't control what's happened here. The Stokehouse burned down and people's livelihoods are at stake.''
Comme will close on April 20, reopening mid-May as the Stokehouse after a Pascale Gomes-McNabb makeover. Work is expected to start on the new St Kilda restaurant in July.