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Married to the sea . . . The FishWife co-owner John Pile often employs the restaurant's unofficial mascot, Nola, to chase off overzealous seagulls. PHOTO: RUBY HEYWARD

When Nicky and John Pile first envisioned their Moeraki restaurant, The FishWife, they wanted it to be simple and small.

While the restaurant’s size had stayed the same, its reputation and following has grown massively since it opened in 2019.

‘‘We thought originally it would just be a little caravan — but our first weekend was off the charts,’’ Mrs Pile said.

‘‘It’s never stopped,’’ Mr Pile added.

The couple has spent almost three years making fresh, high quality crayfish and blue cod more accessible to the public.

For them, it was about cutting out the middle man.

Mr Pile is a fourth-generation fisherman, and is contracted by Ngai Tahu as a commercial fisherman.

Whatever he caught was graded, determining whether it would be exported or go to the domestic market. A missing antenna here or a missing leg there could land a crayfish on the plate of a New Zealander.

Rather than sell to the domestic market and buy the product back, the couple skipped a step with The FishWife — selling the less-than-perfect, but perfectly good, crayfish themselves.

It was also important the crayfish and sea creatures on the menu were caught locally, sustainably, and in a traceable way.

‘‘It’s all about looking after the product and the fishing — its significant,’’ Mrs Pile said. Operating from a small building in Moeraki’s harbour, the couple worked ‘‘long hours’’ and ‘‘long days’’ — but there was something that kept them going.

‘‘It’s about the people,’’ Mrs Pile said.

‘‘It makes long hours do-able.’’

The support the couple received was ‘‘unbelievable’’, as regular customers travelled from as far as Dunedin, Central Otago, Queenstown and Christchurch, Mr Pile said.

‘‘They’re sort of loyal buggers,’’ he said.

Their dog, Lola, also loved the company offered by diners.

Lola was ‘‘synonymous’’ with the restaurant — greeting customers as they came.

Regulars were disappointed when the spotty French bulldog was not around, and newbies were disappointed when she did not take a chip — her eyes were usually on the fish, Mrs Pile said.

And when the designated seagull spray bottle failed, Nola was quick on the job to chase them away.

Mrs Pile loved swapping stories across the counter — sharing stories about their lives and Moeraki.

And the couple had plenty.

Mr Pile grew up in Moeraki, and his wife used to visit the coastal village from Christchurch as a teenager.

Because they worked full-time during the week, The FishWife only opened during the weekend.

‘‘We will always want to be small,’’ Mr Pile said.

‘‘Our menu will never get bigger and neither will our wee operation.’’