New Victorian restaurants launch during shutdown

Gemima Cody
A meatball sub from Rocco's Bologna Discoteca, which has opened during the shutdown.
A meatball sub from Rocco's Bologna Discoteca, which has opened during the shutdown. Photo: Emilio Scalzo

We have expected high profile restaurant closures due to the COVID-19 shutdown, yet a number of new venues have launched. And some are doing well.  

Chef Josh Fry (ex-Marion) and Emilio Scalzo had been working on opening Rocco's Bologna Discoteca on Gertrude Street for two years.

The venue, which specialises in hot Italian sandwiches, good liquor and specialities such as chook foot cacciatore, was two weeks from opening when restrictions began.

Josh Fry outside Rocco's Bologna Discoteca.
Josh Fry outside Rocco's Bologna Discoteca. Photo: Emilio Scalzo

But Scalzo says "rather than shutting the doors and sulking about what should have been, we owed it to [our staff] and ourselves to get creative".

Rocco's launched online, and faced the added challenge of not having an existing client base or even a shopfront. It is still a boarded-up construction site.

But Scalzo thinks opening was worth it, saying some locals are eating with them a few times a week and it's given them a chance to "bond as a team".

300 Grams is opening in Northcote

A burger and fries from 300 Grams. Photo: Supplied

Joe Farrar, who owns Northcote burger venue 300 Grams, opened a Coburg store on May 5 and says despite warnings from friends, it has been a success. 

"Everyone kept saying I was crazy to go ahead, but in my mind it had already happened," he said.

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Farrar set up the Coburg shopfront with just an ordering window, but had a mural painted of deceased food writer Anthony Bourdain, saying he wanted to personalise the store for passers-by "so you get an experience at Coburg, COVID-19 or not". 

Some operators felt they had no choice but to forge ahead. In Daylesford, the owners of Cliffy's Emporium opened a new trattoria, Beppe Bar and Kitchen, two days before shutdown.

Part-owner Liam Thornycroft says "we had no previous figures to prove what our loss of income would have been, making it hard to negotiate rent, and apply for support packages". They also didn't want to lose their newly-recruited chefs, hard to find regionally.

Thornycroft says local support has been excellent, but worries they've missed their "just open buzz" and that customers' first impressions are somewhat out of their control. "We can't control how they will present it, when they plan to eat it. It may be cold." 

It's for this reason that chef Aaron Turner, owner of Geelong fine diner Igni, will initially sell sturdy burritos when he opens a new taqueria, Tacos y Liquor, in Little Malop Street next week. "Tacos don't travel," says Turner.