In late 2018, Luke Whearty and Aki Nishikura packed up their bags, their son Bronson, 8 years of memories and their World's Tiop 50 bar Operation Dagger in Singapore, and headed home to Melbourne. In 2019, they opened BYRDI, a small bar in Melbourne Central that was slowly and then quickly changing Melbournian's understanding of what a cocktail can be - seasonal, thought-provoking, challenging, and entirely delicious.
Now, BYRDI and their close-knit team have come to a grinding halt. We touched base with Luke to see how he was handling COVID-19 and how they plan on getting through it.
Worksmith: Australia is about a week behind the rest of the world in terms of infection numbers and government responses, who and what bars overseas have you been watching closely?
Luke Whearty: I’m pretty close with a couple of people in the London industry namely Alex Kratena and Matt Whiley who I speak to quite regularly so that’s one country I’ve been following pretty closely. It’s been equally heartbreaking and terrifying watching it all unfold for them over there and watching it slowly start to happen to us as well.
Worksmith: How are you responding?
Luke Whearty: We’ve just been trying to stay positive through it all and keep ourselves occupied. For instance, since we had to close the bar on Monday we have been going out to the Yarra Valley and picking grapes with a couple of our winemakers that we work with. It’s been great to not only keep the team busy but to also get out and get some fresh air and put things into perspective. Big thanks to Cre wines for having us!
Worksmith: What's been the biggest challenge so far and how are you planning to overcome it?
Luke Whearty: To put it bluntly, money. Overnight we have seen our livelihoods get stripped from us. We were a business that was in its infancy (4 months) so cash flow was already very tight for us. We are lucky that we have had some very supporting suppliers that we work with who understand the position we are in and are even helping us out by selling our bottled cocktails for us. (Shout out to Blackhearts and Sparrows!)
Worksmith: Once all of this is over, what is your positive prediction for the industry?
Luke Whearty: We are going to be a very tight-knit bunch. You can already see how much people have come together to support one another, it’s been amazing to see. Not many industries support each other the way the service industry does. We are lucky to have one another.