A word none of us ever had in our business plans- until now.
The last few weeks need no reintroduction, the various stages of hospitality shutdowns across the globe have crippled our industry and we’ve all witnessed it first hand. Forcing all of us to bend to the will of this virus and government-mandated closure venues- putting more than one million hospitality workers jobs at risk in Australia alone. COVID-19 has affected everyone reading this piece in some way.
I know I’ve felt it hard. Being the proud ( and very tired ) co-owner of three venues in Melbourne; Bar Liberty, Capitano and Falco Bakery.
All previously celebrated and loved by our customers and now, all empty except one.
Before all this happened, the diversification across our hospitality group was at times a headache- a very difficult juggling game of trying to deliver the best wine, the best pasta and pizza and the best-baked goods. All with three very different teams in three very unique venues and all with very different customers. This sweaty juggling act has been like having 3 children, all difficult but all loved dearly and maybe somedays you wish you could just spend your whole afternoon with the one who's behaving best right now.
The differences and diversification across our venues though is now what’s easing the pain and keeping our lights on during a crisis.
Our wine bar, Bar Liberty has felt the pain the most out of the three, just like any other bar right now- it’s incredibly difficult to pivot to online sales and delivery when your entire business model is built around luring people into your cosy venue to enjoy stellar service and atmosphere. We tried though and quickly realized that keeping it “open” was simply not feasible. But even with the doors to my first (and favourite) closed- there was no way we were going to let our staff be put out on the street. This is a time for leadership and for those who can, the time to step up to the plate.
The solution has been to rapidly adapt, using the tools immediately in front of us.
Combining all the values into a big family essentially, filling in each other's weakness and supporting the entire group through a shared effort. Falco Bakery has become a central hub, our bunker and base. Luckily under the current rules of shutdown it is and has been allowed to stay “open” in a stinted and controlled iteration- bread being an essential item has allowed this. So we’ve taken all our wine and beverage from Bar Liberty and put it on the menu at our bakery, and we have one of our Bar Liberty staff members working every day on-site to chat to take away customers about wine if they want a little direction. We’ve extended the hours of the bakery too- after seeing a huge increase in traffic and a shift in what customers are purchasing, we simply had to. We’ve seen Falco become a symbol of Smith Street during quarantine, a place people are choosing to walk to during their allotted allowed exercise time, somewhere to turn to on a Friday night when you feel like escaping the news cycle with a good bottle of wine and something delicious to snack on. This has been hard work and things look and feel very unfamiliar, but this diversification means we are still operating and most importantly still employing our incredible teams.
Staff after all, are everything. We are nothing without them, there is no business without them in the good times and there certainly wouldn't be anything without them now in the hard times. When I speak about leadership and steppin’ up to the plate during a crisis- the most inspiring examples of those doing so- are those on the front lines of this. Not venue owners or investors, it’s the managers, the wait staff, the chefs and everyone in between. They’re the real heroes of our industry right now. Adapting in the trenches, bringing great and innovative ideas forward and continuing to bring smiles to peoples faces- regardless of how tough things are on them right now too.
I’ve seen this from every one of our staff in the last few weeks. As soon as restrictions started, our head bartender at Capitano immediately bottled our cocktails and made them available for pickup and delivery- bracing our restaurant for further restrictions before they went into place. All of our teams also increased our menu offerings for take away- offering frozen pizzas, pasta and a variety of assemble-yourself options for our customers. They partnered with a delivery option that takes a smaller percentage of sales than Uber Eats and each venue has put on deals and promotions that have kept our customers smiling and feeling appreciated. Every staff member across the group has put in the hard yards and made me emotional with their resilience and effort.
This has ensured our survival.
Publicly- I want to thank our little family of staff, all their names listed below because they deserve to be known, along with my Co-Owners Casey Wall, Manu Potoi & Christine Tran;
Thijs van Lierop
Through all of this...
Head to Difford's Guide to read the end of this piece in full.