Revamped Downham Market Arbuckles welcomes back customers as hundreds book in advance
A popular Downham restaurant has bounced back strongly after the adversity of being flooded following the original Covid-19 closure in March.
Arbuckles has been fully revamped and now includes eight themed dining greenhouses, which can be heated and cooled, as it welcomed back customers for the first time in seven months today.
Ahead of reopening, the bar and grill eatery had more than 3,000 online bookings after its announcement, as a series of safety measures have been seamlessly incorporated into the new build.
Arbuckles founder John Murphy said: "There is a general mood of positivity. We have dusted ourselves down and the created the most wonderful restaurant from the watery grave we were left with and I think it will blow everyone away."
Firefighters were called to the Stone Cross site in June as the owners were preparing to reopen following the government go-ahead from July 4.
But the crews were unable to pump out the sheer volume of floodwater which had entered the restaurant.
Mr Murphy and his team have responded positively to the setback with the restaurant now holding a capacity of 252 rather than the previous 352 to enable greater social distancing space between tables.
The outside greenhouses will have a table of four in each of them, and Mr Murphy's wife Maxine has been creating the themes for them.
There will be 11 sanitiser stations in the new restaurant and customers are required to wear a face mask when they enter and leave the building.
And a specific QR code will be displayed at the entrance of the restaurant so customers can scan and check-in online with the new NHS app to register with track and trace.
Screens have been installed and there are booths to ensure the safety measures are "seamlessly incorporated" into the restaurant without people "necessarily noticing" them. The big round tables have been replaced with tables for six.
The Downham restaurant has taken on another 17 staff for reopening after they had been trained at the Ely branch in preparation for the surge of customers at the revamped site.
Mr Murphy said: "We basically had to take everything out after the flood and we used specialist drying teams. We got quotes for the rebuild and we have been working around the clock to get it done.
"It [reopening] was meant to be October 28 but we have moved heaven and earth to get it done on the 12th. There are new tables and chairs, and the old kitchen has come out. We had to start with plaster walls. It has been a monumental effort."
Trade has been going "exceptionally well" at the Ely branch since it reopened on July 4 and Mr Murphy said it has been busier than this time last year, helped by the government's Eat Out to Help Out scheme.
Mr Murphy added: "Like most businesses we were not sure if we would survive and then when we got flooded you think there is no chance but opening up Ely gave us a bit of a lifeline and it meant we had a business to come back to.
"We have seen there are stricter measures in Scotland so that general uncertainty is my concern."
The menu has been reduced from what it was pre-Covid, but the American tapas menu will be re-introduced for special occasions.
And Mr Murphy said the general response to the social media announcement that the restaurant was reopening has been very positive.
He added: "There is a phenomenal amount of people who are so pleased. Walking in town, people were asking for months when we would be open and the locals have been looking forward to seeing it because March 17 seems like a lifetime ago.
"There is a real buzz with all the staff and it is lovely to see they have missed the place. That's where they have worked for years and years, and they were heartbroken when it was flooded. They were over the moon when they first saw the new building."
The opening hours have been reduced from 9am to 9pm rather than 8am to 10.30pm due to the government guidelines, and it will be open seven-days-a-week.