Belfast burger bar City Picnic last business to reopen after Primark blaze
The last of the businesses forced to close following the Primark fire that destroyed Bank Buildings reopened today - more than 15 months after the inferno.
City Picnic, the Castle Street burger joint and bar, opened its doors after what one of its co-owners described as more than a year of hard work and some hard-thinking on how the establishment might be even better than before.
"It was absolutely phenomenal," said co-owner Arthur McAnerney.
He was speaking following the lunchtime rush after the doors opened for the first time since the August 2018 fire that engulfed the Primark store and surrounding businesses.
Mr McAnerney, who co-owns the establishment with partner Gavin Gregg, added: "No figures as yet, but all worked well, almost seamlessly.
"There were lots of the old customers just delighted to have us back."
The partners have invested approximately £500,000 in re-establishing the business and hired 35 staff ahead of the opening.
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As they plotted their return, the pair kept busy working on new menus, on the redesign and on the best ways to increase capacity and speed of service.
"We were working very hard during that time and when we reopened, it was all redesigned from the kitchen out," Mr McAnerney said. Among those ideas developed over the 15 months out was the dinner menu, which was revealed for the first time last night.
But the rise back up from the ashes was not easy, Mr McAnerney added, describing how he, his partner and allies were "left to paddle their own canoe".
"You have to make do with what you are given and we reinvested in the business ourselves," he added.
On the city, Mr McAnerney said it "just does not have the capacity to give any real support...there is no action team to switch on and help us get us through".
He added: "This was not something we would have chosen to do, but we are two guys who are pretty switched on and capable of making an opportunity out of a bad situation."
The Bank Buildings fire burned for three days.
A cordon put in place around Bank Buildings meant 14 nearby businesses were unable to trade for months.
In June, the fire service said it had completed its "extensive investigation" into the cause of the fire and had concluded that the blaze was "accidental".
Last month, it emerged that work to reconstruct the Primark store may take another three years to complete.
Planning permission to restore Bank Buildings in the city centre has been granted by Belfast City Council.
But it will be 2022 at the earliest before the rebuilding work is completed.