Foot traffic in the CBD is down by 85 per cent, but chef-restaurateur Scott Pickett has unshakeable faith that trade will come roaring back. Just weeks after adding Longrain to his rapidly expanding Melbourne restaurant empire, which includes the Estelle, Matilda 159 and Pickett's Deli, Pickett has now taken over the lease for 430 Little Collins Street.
One might question Pickett's reasoning, taking on another CBD property when the lockdown has made the city a ghost town. But he is unphased, saying, "It's an excellent site and if the product is right, and the price point is right, people will come."
Pickett has negotiated a long-term lease and plans to use the smaller part of the venue, which most recently housed Bennett's burger chain, Benny Burger, for a branch of Pickett's Deli, serving healthy salads, sandwiches and coffees. He hopes to have this operational by Christmas, and will relaunch the main restaurant later. He is not ruling out a return to French bistro dining on the site.
The Singaporean Far East Organisation, to whom Bennett sold majority shares in 2016, has been seeking new tenants for the past 12 to 18 months.
According to Vue Group chief operating officer Nick Grant, handing over to Pickett and retiring the Iki Jime brand is a positive step. He confirmed that all salaried team members "have been retained and re-deployed within our other venues," and says the site "will enable the group to focus on improving overall operational efficiencies".
Vue is riding out the second lockdown with a revised version of its Vue to You offering, reviving the star dishes of Bistro Vue, including French onion soup with a cheese and onion brioche bun, and confit duck legs with braised lentils, or beef bourguignon.
Long term, they are working on a premium offering, to take effect when restrictions lift, that will see a chef and waiter bring the theatrics of a Vue de Monde experience to the home.