A fire next door forced a family-run restaurant to close

TOUGH TIMES: Moonlight Social Club owners Carolina and Matt Starling with their children Indi, Havana and Jaxon. Picture: Geoff Jones
TOUGH TIMES: Moonlight Social Club owners Carolina and Matt Starling with their children Indi, Havana and Jaxon. Picture: Geoff Jones

Getting a knock on the door from a police officer in the early hours of the morning is never good news, and for restaurant owner Carolina Starling this couldn't be more true.

Her restaurant, Moonlight Social House at Narrabeen, was forced to close after a fire in the kitchen of the neighbouring restaurant, Mexicano.

"I got an extremely loud knock at the door and I ran down the stairs, and I saw a police officer standing at the door. And you always think the worst," she said. "The first question he asked me was 'do you own Moonlight?' and I felt sick."

EXTENSIVE DAMAGE: Matt and Carolina Starling, owners of Moonlight Social Club, examine the damage to their ceiling following a fire in an adjoining restaurant. Photo: Geoff Jones

EXTENSIVE DAMAGE: Matt and Carolina Starling, owners of Moonlight Social Club, examine the damage to their ceiling following a fire in an adjoining restaurant. Photo: Geoff Jones

Along with her husband, Matt Starling, they immediately went to inspect the damage.

The fire burnt through from Mexicano's kitchen and left Moonlight's kitchen extensively damaged. Gas and electricity lines were destroyed, as was the main water pipe for the residences above the restaurant. Water from the damaged pipe flooded through into Moonlight causing the ceiling to collapse. Nobody was hurt during the incident.

Mrs Starling said being faced with the disaster was especially difficult given the NSW government had just announced their road map for reopening.

"It does hurt when you can kind of see that finish line, we knew this week we were going to get an announcement about reopening, and then I got told there's over a million dollars worth of damage to the restaurant," she said.

KITCHEN CLOSED: Damage to utilities in Moonlight's kitchen meant it had to be shut down indefinitely. Photo: Geoff Jones

KITCHEN CLOSED: Damage to utilities in Moonlight's kitchen meant it had to be shut down indefinitely. Photo: Geoff Jones

"It's been a tough year and this is my only source of income. If my business goes down I have to wonder how I'm going to pay my rent and feed my children."

She said closing the restaurant wouldn't only impact her young family, but would also put her four staff, who are already contending with reduced hours, out of work. She said the only way her business would survive is by doing an outdoor barbecue.

But to do that, the Starlings face another roadblock. Before the fire, the couple had applied for a permit to cook outdoors so the restaurant could attract more customers. The application was rejected by council.

'EMOTIONAL ROLLERCOASTER': The end of lockdown was in sight for Matt and Carolina Starling until a fire did extensive damage to their restaurant. Photo: Geoff Jones

'EMOTIONAL ROLLERCOASTER': The end of lockdown was in sight for Matt and Carolina Starling until a fire did extensive damage to their restaurant. Photo: Geoff Jones

"It's quiet and people aren't spending like the last lockdown. We were trying to reinvent ourselves and do our best to make people come and sometimes a little bit of theatre does work," Mrs Starling said.

"Council said we can't set up a kitchen because we need to have a sink, and I said 'well I've got that,' and they said, 'well you can't do it because you're not insured'."

While the couple had decided not to go ahead with the outdoor barbecue, Mrs Starling said the fire has left them with no other option.

Hearing about Moonlight's plight, councillor Rory Amon got in touch and Mrs Starling said within five minutes of getting off the phone to him she received a phone call from council and the permit to run outdoor barbecues was approved. "It's a shame that it takes someone with push and power to get something through," she said.

Moonlight Social House will be serving up barbecue meat, vegetables and seafood served from 12pm until sunset every weekend.

This story Lockdown hurt, and now this: how will I pay rent and feed my children? first appeared on Northern Beaches Review.