• Cyril McAree

Surviving a Baptism of Fire in Bantry

Having taken charge of a well-known seafood restaurant in West Cork, restaurateur Shane Spillane could hardly have predicted that the Covid-19 crisis would force him to close his doors less than a fortnight after the grand opening. But when the going gets tough, the tough do take-away…

“It’s strange,” says Youghal native Shane Spillane of the current set of circumstances, “It’s not what we’re used to but we’ve adapted to it now – both personally and professionally!” After opening “O’Connor’s Seafood Restaurant” on the main square in Bantry on the 6th of March last, the business had to shut its doors to the public in circumstances that hadn’t been seen during the course of the forty 40 years of the restaurant’s existence.

“We had eight days of trading… we opened on the 6th of March and we had to close by the 15th.” After the previous tenant left some months previously, there was much anticipation in the West Cork coastal town for the re-opening of the restaurant – a fact borne out by the level of activity Spillane experienced during his first few days’ trading: “The first weekend, we did close to 300 covers – which was phenomenal for us, considering we were only open a day and a half at that point… the feedback from the customers coming in was outstanding too so we were very optimistic; looking forward to the future. “It’s been nearly a landmark institution in Bantry over the years… it has been here since the 1970s, I believe. There was so much goodwill towards the place before my arrival that many people couldn’t wait to see it open again and operational.” Before coming to Bantry, Spillane had spent 12 months as General Manager of ‘The Moorings’ – a boutique hotel in Portmagee, Co Kerry. After several months of planning and hiring staff for the coming season that looked so promising in early March, Spillane had to trim his operation down to the very basics and convert his business to a takeaway outlet. “We’ve changed our whole menu from what it was to be more take-away and family-friendly.” Spillane is currently running a four-day operation, which will be reduced to a three-day shift in a couple of weeks’ time. This is in response to the patterns that have emerged since the restaurant has become exclusively a take-away restaurant. “I think that people are looking upon it as a treat for the weekend. They’re trying to keep to some kind of normality during the week. “We’ll be going to longer days covering Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We’ve really reduced the team – it’s just me and another guy in there – but we’re doing our best to keep the place open.”

The formula seems to be working so far and, according to Spillane, a steady clientele has developed over the weeks – keeping the doors of the restaurant open (albeit for a limited number of days per week) and keeping a decades-old institution alive and breathing, as well as providing a much-needed social outlet for a population starved of so many others. “With the whole social distancing rules, we’re talking to people through a fire door… people are very happy and very grateful that, first of all, we’ve kept the place open. And the business that we’ve got is all repeat customers, which is great. It’s not just an odd person here and an odd person there. We have 25-30 customers that are coming once a week at least. So it’s very good and we’re thankful to the people of Bantry for their continued support. Without them, we wouldn’t be open.”

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