Peter Doyle

Restaurateur whose seafood empire helped put Sydney on the map as a dining capital

Peter Doyle became Australia's most famous restaurateur after transforming a fish-and-chip café overlooking Sydney Harbour into an internationally acclaimed seafood restaurant. But despite his fame and riches, he remained a fisherman at heart.

Peter Doyle, fisherman and restaurateur: born Sydney, New South Wales 1932; OAM 2003; married (two sons, three daughters); died Sydney 12 December 2004.

Peter Doyle became Australia's most famous restaurateur after transforming a fish-and-chip café overlooking Sydney Harbour into an internationally acclaimed seafood restaurant. But despite his fame and riches, he remained a fisherman at heart.

Doyle was passionate about seafood and loved to entertain. He became close friends with many of his customers. The crowd at his funeral reflected his eclectic circle, with politicians, celebrity chefs and socialites mingling with the elderly prawn fishermen who supplied his kitchens.

He built up the family business at Watsons Bay, where five generations of Doyles have been selling seafood at the same site since 1885. Their empire now comprises four restaurants around Sydney. Doyle's son Peter runs the original restaurant, Doyle's on the Beach, which has become a popular tourist attraction.

In 1965, when Doyle took over the fish-and-chip kiosk, tucked inside a converted boatshed, Sydney was a gastronomic backwater. Evangelical about good food, he helped put the city on the map as a seafood dining capital. As Sydney acquired ever more restaurants and its reputation grew, Doyle kept serving quality fish, prepared unpretentiously, at reasonable prices.

The café is now a sprawling restaurant on the south-east shore of Sydney Harbour, and there are three other Doyle's outlets, including one overlooking the Opera House at Circular Quay. But Doyle never changed his business card, which stated simply: "Peter Doyle, fisherman".

The sea was in Peter Doyle's blood. Born in Sydney in 1932, he grew up near the beach, left school at 12 and worked as a bricklayer for a while before becoming a fisheries inspector in northern New South Wales. Returning to his birthplace to join the family business, he started at the bottom, scrubbing floors, filleting fish and washing dishes.

It was not long before he took over the running of the café, which had been opened by his parents, Alice and Jack, in 1948. Doyle, whose brothers John, Michael and Tim worked with him, waged a battle with the local council to have chairs and tables on the footpath, at a time when alfresco dining was unknown in Sydney. He won.

The little kiosk expanded into a fashionable restaurant, with a courtyard, that always had people queuing outside, particularly on sunny weekends. Over the next 30 years, three more establishments were added to the family's portfolio. Doyle was also instrumental in developing Australia's National Maritime Museum and the Sydney Fish Markets, said to be the second largest in the world, after Tsukiji in Tokyo.

Doyle owned a vineyard in the Hunter Valley, north of Sydney, where he loved to work. He also campaigned for charities, particularly for the disabled, and was awarded the medal of the Order of Australia in 2003.

Peter Doyle's frenetic pace of life slowed somewhat after he was diagnosed with melanoma in the mid-1990s and suffered a stroke, which left him partially paralysed, following radiation treatment. But, according to his son Peter, he never missed a day's work until his second stroke three weeks ago. This left him unable to walk and after a third stroke he lapsed into a coma.

According to the local press, a handwritten sign on the gate of his vineyard now states "Gone fishing".

Kathy Marks



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