Donovans restaurant fire damage bill climbs again

Deborah Gough
The original Donovans dining room.
The original Donovans dining room. Photo: Eddie Jim

The cost of returning the fire-ravaged Donovans restaurant to its former glory has blown out to nearly six times the original estimate, with the owners now believing it will cost closer to $2.4 million.

A blaze broke-out in the St Kilda restaurant in August. The fire started above the kitchen and quickly spread through the vents, destroying the kitchen and damaging parts of the restaurant, although much was saved by firefighters.

The fire damage was initially estimated at $400,000 before being revised to $1 million.  

Donavans' signature Queensland leader prawns dish.
Donavans' signature Queensland leader prawns dish. Photo: Eddie Jim

Gail Donovan, co-owner with husband Kevin, said they had seriously underestimated the cost of restaurant kitchens and fittings.

"It is just mostly water damage but the cost of everything is just much more than we expected," Donovan said. "It's a long time since we did this." 

She said kitchen equipment had changed significantly since its last major fit out in 1997. The Donovans have appointed the same company originally hired to do that fitout, Leeda Projects, for the work. 

The couple, plus other business partners, took over Jacques by the Sea in 1995 calling it Pavilion St Kilda. It was then rebranded in 1997 as Donovans. The original Donovans design won Leeda Projects a Master Builders Association of Victoria award in 1998.

Director Frank Rossi described it as "fate" that the same company has been appointed to carry out the work.

Donovan said the couple has resisted the urge to totally rebuild the property.

"We still want you to feel like you are dining with us at home," Donovan said.

Donovans will hold a charity event on Tuesday, October 7, at the Palais Theatre, St Kilda. The $50-a-couple dinner is for firefighters who fought the August blaze, and restaurant guests who were evacuated mid-meal. The money raised - matched dollar for dollar by Donovans - will go towards the Firefighters Charity Fund Melbourne which donates money to major charities, particularly those that work with children's health, burns and cancer victims.

About 25 firefighters and their partners, and 100 guests are expected to attend.

"This wonderful building still stands thanks to the effort of the MFB [Melbourne Fire Brigade]," Donovan said.

"Their crews fought hard to save the building and they did just that. Our appreciation for the work of the firefighters is immeasurable." 

On the menu is the restaurant's renowned barbecued Queensland leader prawns dish - which will be roasted instead in a mobile kitchen out the back of the theatre.