Lightning-quick recovery turns celebrity chef to broker fan

Neil Perry

It’s long been a darling of the Sydney food scene but chef Neil Perry’s acclaimed Rockpool Bar & Grill was the centre of attention for all the wrong reasons in April this year.

A fire broke out in the kitchen during the dinner service, forcing the evacuation of more than 200 diners and staff.

Six fire crews were brought in to fight the blaze, which threatened to spread into the ducting and engulf the entire Hunter Street building. Huge volumes of water were dumped into the restaurant, causing extensive damage to its ceilings, as well as its marble-clad dining room.

Just nine months before, Perry had appointed as his insurance broker GSA’s Carlo Gentili, who promptly led a review of their cover.

“GSA identified several underinsurance concerns and gaps in coverage which were rectified immediately,” Gentili says.

Everyone was incredibly reactive. We just had to tell them what we needed.

“I received a call early Saturday morning notifying our office of the fire. I was confident that I had set up a program which was going to provide our client with the highest level of coverage and protection.

“When we realised the level of damage to the exhaust fan, which went up several levels within the building, we feared the worst. Everyone’s initial thoughts were that the restaurant may not be open for several months.”

Perry says when he first heard about the fire, it was not whether he was adequately covered that he was worried about – it was how long before he could reopen.

“For us to be closed for any length of time is difficult because it’s hard to restart the business. This is a restaurant that has 2000 bookings a week and we were actively cancelling people,” he says.

“That’s a freaky thing to do when your whole life is trying to get people to book. And it’s difficult not knowing when we could actively start rebooking people again and start saying that we were open.”

But Perry says he was overwhelmed by the attitudes of everyone involved in the rebuilding.

“Everyone was incredibly reactive. We just had to tell them what we needed,” he says.

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“Some of the things weren’t even quotable but they just said ‘Get the guys working on it 24 hours a day until it’s finished.’ What was also terrific was the focus on getting us in the same shape as we were before we closed.”

Allianz Claims General Manager Lori Callahan says in situations like this, knowing when their business will be back up and running again is usually at the top of mind for customers.

“Of greatest concern to our client in this case was day to-day loss of business, particularly across the approaching holiday period of Easter, a highly profitable time for a restaurant,” she says.

“Our loss adjusters were on site immediately after notification and began the assessment as soon as fire crews and police deemed it safe to enter. The clean-up commenced almost immediately, enabling repair work to be started as soon as possible.”

Less than four weeks after the fire started, Rockpool reopened, as good as ever.

Perry says the experience upended his expectations about the insurance industry.

“You hear a lot of horror stories (but) the exact opposite of whatever I thought about the insurance industry happened to us,” he says.

Read the full story in the August-September edition of Insurance & Risk Professional.