Cromwell favourite back in action after fire

Thirteen months after being gutted by a fire, popular Italian restaurant Armando’s Kitchen is back in action in Cromwell’s historic precinct.

An electrical fire in November 2017 saw Armando Varlotta’s eponymous restaurant, housed in a heritage building, out of action on the shores of Lake Dunstan, and the stress of rebuilding took its toll on the Italian expat.

“After the fire, it was depressing,” he said. “Then I became eager to start, but it was stressful and frustrating because nothing was happening. Then when things started happening it took longer than expected because things never go to plan. It has been quite a journey – not a pleasant one.”

Immediately after the fire Varlotta moved away from Cromwell and managed a friend’s restaurant in Melbourne. He moved back to the small Central Otago town in July to begin the rebuild.

Being housed in a historic area, Varlotta was restricted in the changes he could make to the building.

“It took a long time to redesign everything,” he said. “I wasn’t allowed to change the building because of rules of the historic precinct but I managed to change the layout and make it better with a better flow. And, I wanted to give a fresh look.”

Although he had hoped to open in October, it wasn’t until five days before Christmas that Varlotta finaly received sign-off and was able to start trading. The response was overwhelming, with hundreds of customers every day, but has since slowed down to normal levels.

“I was very touched and felt it was not an ordinary cafe, but a house where people like to hang out and have a yarn – a meeting place. That was the main reason I decided to start again.”