ON 14 MARCH I brought the Fishy Fishy team together to announce that we would be closing the doors for two weeks. Like many, we thought the doctors, scientists and world leaders would have it all figured out and we’d be back open in no time.
As time went on the news and media from around the world became overwhelmed with reports about Covid-19. That’s when the realisation hit that we would be closed a lot longer than we initially anticipated.
The first week or two was a rollercoaster of emotions as we got our heads around the situation at hand. Of course, there were nights where I lay awake worrying. From the day we closed, I was in the restaurant every day.
It was eerie walking around an empty business that is usually full of life with customers and staff. The sounds of people laughing and singing and banging frying pans. It was surreal.
I would look out at the empty streets, no cars, no people walking by and wondered if we would ever reopen.
Saying that on the whole we tried to stay positive and reassured that we would come out the other side. About two weeks in our two head chefs and two front of house managers contacted me and said they would like to come back in some shape or form.
Adapting to change
We started doing non-contact takeaways in early April, on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Orders and payment were taken over the phone to ensure the safety of both customers and staff. The first week wasn’t great, the second week improved and the third week we got it up to the same capacity we had been doing over the past 8-9 weeks before we closed.
Then other restaurants opened and there was competition all around. As we did ourselves, people felt a loyalty to support everyone.
There was a great sense of camaraderie and community spirit in Kinsale. In Fishy Fishy we supplied dinners to the needy and vulnerable older people who couldn’t cook for themselves. We provided meals on wheels every third or fourth Saturday, other restaurants were doing the same.
Local fishermen would contact me and say they wanted to donate boxes of fish and asked if we would cook it for the people and of course we said we would. There was a great feeling of the community helping each other out and showing concern for each other and that took a lot of the distress and loneliness out of it- we were in it together. It wasn’t just one business; it was every business and every person in the town.
Embracing the ‘new normal’
An experience like this shows you that you can live with less. You realise some of the things you thought you needed you didn’t need at all. You can get over everything else if you’re healthy, you have food on the table, your family, and everyone is supporting each other.
The things you thought mattered like holidays and football matches, they’re all secondary. Family, friendship and a community, that’s everything.
We’re back open since 29 June. Our staff are fully trained and thankfully the phone hasn’t stopped ringing. Typically, a lot of our business comes from America and foreign tourists but this year I keep saying it’s the Dublin Dollar that will save us.
The support has been strong so far. Monday last, the beginning of Phase Three, was quite busy. We were down about 30% takings on the same Monday last year. If we can keep that up we’ll get through it. We have 190 seats and thankfully we’ve only lost about 35 of those. The restaurant is very spacious. We have an outside area and we opened a wine and tapas bar upstairs last year.
In our business, there are lots of restaurants that are seasonal. They open in March and close in October. Many are family-run and they rely on the tourist season to survive for the rest of the year. It’s those restaurants that I feel sorry for and we need to support them now whilst they’re open.
We have the best food in world in Ireland and I would encourage people to stay away from the runways and use the highways and byways of Ireland instead. For the year that’s in it, let’s stay at home.
It’s not hard to holiday in Ireland. We get 10-11 million visitors a year, we must be doing something right. Irish tourists are amongst the best in the world. We know how to enjoy ourselves, I hope we can enjoy ourselves in Ireland.
There’s a lot of negativity about Ireland being an expensive country but in my opinion, it’s value for money. At the end of the day, there is no better place in the world. Until you get to a restaurant for a fish dinner, here’s a recipe for you to try at home:
Pan-Fried Ray Wings
Served with warm potato, green bean and sundried tomato salad and a mustard dressing
500g Ray Wings skinned and boned
50g sun dried tomatoes
100g cooked green beans
1 red onion finely sliced
2 large cooked potatoes
150ml rapeseed oil
50ml red wine vinegar
1 tbsp of French mustard
1 tbsp of caster sugar
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cracked black pepper
To make the mustard dressing, place the mustard, vinegar and sugar in a bowl. Whisk together and slowly add the oil. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
Chop the cooked potatoes and fry in a pan until brown. Add the cooked green beans, sliced red onion and sun-dried tomatoes.
In a separate pan, heat some oil, fry the ray wings for 4 minutes on each side.
Serve on top of the warm salad and drizzle the mustard dressing on top.
Martin Shanahan is the owner of the award-winning Fishy Fishy Restaurant and Café in Kinsale County Cork. He is a long-established TV broadcaster, and is the best selling author having written various books such as Martin’s Fishy Fishy Cookbook, and ‘Surf ‘n’ Turf’. Kinsale is now reopening for business. It has engaged a Global Pandemic Expert to advise the businesses on all aspects related to post Covid-19 reopening. Visitors can feel secure in the knowledge that Kinsale has gone above and beyond with the regards to their safety.