After hanging on through two years of lockdowns and getting business up to 40 per cent of what it was pre-pandemic, Forman said he was heartbroken when his accountant said it was not enough.
“They said, even if it gets to 100 per cent of pre-pandemic, it’s going to take you 10 years to trade out of the debt that you’ve collected over the past two years,” he said. “I just got very freaked out. I couldn’t figure out a way of keeping everything going.”
Forman said the pandemic was particularly tough on small, independent businesses such as 5 & Dime. “If you don’t have the backing of a big hospitality group, there’s an end to how much cash you can just keep pushing into something,” he said. “Two years of looking at an empty cafe; it takes its toll.”
The list of high-profile restaurants, cafes and bars that closed during the pandemic includes Bar Saracen, Dandelion, 5 & Dime bagels, Charcoal Lane, Kinfolk, Ezard, Gertrude Street Enoteca, Golda, Annam, Dinner by Heston, Elyros, French Saloon, Gontran Cherrier, Kirk’s Public Bar, Miss Ruben, Lentil as Anything, Fatto, Mess Hall, Degraves Espresso, Cuckoo, Madame Brussels and Pacific BBQ House.
Chef Jerry Mai shut two of her five restaurants when the impact of the COVID-19 lockdowns became clear.
“We had to close Annam because I just did not see financially being able to keep a business going endlessly without a time limit as to when people will come back to the city,” she said.
Mai said hospitality businesses were now battling staff shortages as many workers contracted COVID-19.
“I want to say there is a level of comfort now and a level of stability, but I’m not quite sure I can say that yet,” she said. “It’s coming up to winter again, and I’m already having staff drop off like flies with COVID.”
The shift to the suburbs and regions is something chef Brigitte Hafner has lived after closing Fitzroy wine bar Gertrude Street Enoteca after 17 years and opening Tedesca Osteria in Red Hill.
“The whole COVID thing where people want to get out of the city, it was very fortuitous timing for us,” she said.
Hafner said while there might still be tough times ahead for hospitality businesses in Melbourne, she was positive about the future.
“Definitely there will be a thinning out of establishments; maybe, though, they weren’t run properly, nothing’s black and white,” she said. “Melbourne has some of the best hospitality in the country, and it is strong and it is coming back.”
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