The Fat Duck fails to fly

By Don Farmer

Masterton's cafe-in-the park The Fat Duck has closed its doors almost exactly a decade after its predecessor Cafe Cecille opened for business.

The dream of pushing on with the restaurant and transforming it into a financial success ended on Monday for business owner Claire Wells and her eight hard-working staff.

She said employees were "gutted" by the closure.

Ms Wells said she had worked "incredibly hard" during the two-and-a-half years she had owned the business but cash flow problems finally put paid to the venture.

She is now relinquishing the lease on the building, owned by Masterton District Council.

But she said she still felt there was a place for a park restaurant in Masterton's future.

"I have two very small children to look after, so I have had to divide my time. If someone could take it on and give it 110 per cent, then it could be a different story because the building is an asset for the town."

Ms Wells said she felt more for the staff - made up of some full-time workers and others who were part-time - than for herself.

"I had been under a lot of stress and had to hide it from them, so the decision to close has come as a bit of a relief for me."

She said ironically last year was quite good but the business had been carrying a financial hangover from the years previous to that and, with the economic downturn chiming in, it proved too hard to pick up the pieces.

"We have had some fantastically loyal customers who brought us regular trade, but just not enough of it."

The park restaurant started out as Cafe Cecille in May 2001 when businessman Doug Catley convinced the council to let him and his family install a French-style eatery in the old Coronation Hall.

Before that, the hall had at various times been an aquarium, a dairy, a tea kiosk and even a venue for playing indoor bowls.

Over the years, it slipped into debt and struggled along until Ms Wells took it over, gave it a makeover and reopened it as The Fat Duck.

Now with the closure of The Fat Duck, the Masterton District Council is expected to take yet another look at the possible uses for the building.

Parks and recreation manager Grant Hathaway said yesterday that he would recommend to councillors that all options be explored.

"I suppose the challenge to be worked through will be whether a cafe in the park enhances it or if there is a better use.

"The council needs to approach this with an open mind," Mr Hathaway said.

- Wairarapa Times-Age

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