"Opening restaurants is what we do," says restaurateur Chris Lucas, on the launch announcement of Grill Americano, an all-day eatery he's planning to kick off in October.
The 145-seat premises is in the 101 Collins Street building but the entrance will be 112-116 Flinders Lane, opposite the Lucas Group's Chin Chin flagship.
The Italian restaurant and bar will be focused around a wood grill and oven imported from Naples, and the menu will star handmade pasta and meaty classics like bistecca alla fiorentina, a Florentine-style grilled T-bone.
Lucas has had dibs on the site since before the pandemic but considered pulling the pin.
"It's been bubbling along but the lockdowns caused a pause," he says. "It's a complex environment and we had to contemplate whether we wanted to proceed."
In the end, after discussions far and wide, including with Lord Mayor Sally Capp, he decided to go for it.
"Restaurants and cafes and bars are the lifeblood of this city, more so than any other city in Australia," he says. "It's easy to get caught up in the challenges and negativity, but I think there's a greater obligation to be bold and take risks to rebuild Melbourne."
Speaking of bold, Lucas has announced an opening date – sort of – for Society, his Martin Benn vehicle, at 80 Collins Street.
"We are saying July 22, but it depends on the next round of announcements," he says. "We want to have face masks off and capacity restrictions eased, not only because it's a shame to have our staff walking around in face masks, but also because more people will come into the city when mask rules change."
This is the third time Lucas has punted on a date to open Society. "I'm anxious," he says. "If we get to the date without any more issues, we'll be happy."
Welcoming guests will be the culmination of a dream that's been bubbling away since at least early 2017, when Lucas lured Benn and his restaurant manager partner Vicki Wild from Sydney.
"I'm overwhelmed with the beauty of the place," says Lucas. "In my humble and slightly biased opinion, I think Melbourne diners are going to see something they haven't seen before."
The restaurant swings and roundabouts keep coming. As Society strides closer to launch, Lucas has temporarily closed the doors at Chin Chin Sydney, which is in an area subject to stay-at-home orders as part of the latest New South Wales COVID outbreak.
"We just hope it's short and sharp," he says. "Lockdowns without Jobkeeper are very damaging."