CQ publican takes coronavirus blow
Will Cordwell's passion for the finest steaks is clearly evident as he recites the muscle movement involved in each cut of beef, or the way he remembers the packaging numbers for almost any abattoir in Queensland.
Even when there is a serious threat at hand.
It tops Tripadvisor's list of 10 best restaurants in Rockhampton, but even that accolade isn't enough to sustain visitor numbers at the Ascot Hotel Stonegrill Restaurant in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
Famous for his cut to order stone-grilled steaks, Mr Cordwell said dwindling international visitor numbers were beginning to cripple his business, which is usually popular with passers-by.
It has been widely reported that top tier tourism drawcards such as the Great Barrier Reef, Ululru, and the Sydney Opera House have taken a hit as fear of the sickness spreads.
However, the slump of this humble roadside restaurant shows a concerning precursor to just how big the impact of the virus may be.
Mr Cordwell estimates trade is down 80 per cent following in the time correlating directly with the COVID-19 outbreak.
"In Germany, we feature in a touring Australia book and the same goes for France and Sweden - you can't put yourself in there, they come around without you knowing and report back," Mr Cordwell said.
The 80 percent figure correlates with the comment books he encourages his customers to sign after having a steak.
They show international tourists from all corners of the globe visiting in high frequency, sometimes filling a whole page or more in one day.
However, in the past month, what was once a lucrative market Mr Cordwell seems to have tapped into, appears to be drying up.
In the first 12 days of March, he has struggled to fill a page.
"Look at that," he said, pointing at the half-filled page.
"It's just collapsed."
Chinese tourists make up a substantial part of the Ascot's international customer base but with those consumers all but cut off, the prospects are grim.
"We know these (Chinese) fellas who get about six loads of campervans and they take them around Australia. They pull up here with all their vans and their families, and this is a part of their tour," he said.
He said he never pictured COVID-19 having much of an impact when it began making headlines last month but in the space of a few weeks, the virus which started thousands of miles away in metropolitan China, is beginning to take a strangle hold on his regional Queensland business.
"What I'm trying to do now is bounce back from losing all of this," he said, this time pointing to the full pages of his comment books.
Mr Cordwell said he was at a loss as far as closing the gap caused by his missing international patrons.
"What do we do? We work harder," he said.
"At the moment, we're looking at whether we can do a bit more on social media."
Mr Cordwell's unique stone grilled steaks, combined with the personal touch he promises to diners, it is truly a product that sells itself.
In the past, the authentic experience was rewarded in spades by those travelling through telling fellow travellers to make the stop, but now the international favourite stands on shaky ground.
"I think tourism will drop back even more as people can still get home," Mr Cordwell said.