For Carl Windsor, who runs a small wine bar on Elizabeth Street, takeaway has not been a lucrative venture during the coronavirus crisis.
“We’ve done OK from it, but the takeaway was more for our mental health than anything else,” he said.
Mr Windsor owns the wine bar Willing Bros with James Kingston.
Now that coronavirus restrictions are easing, they have opened the doors to diners, doing multiple sittings to make the most of the 10-person limit on patrons.
They also own a wine bar and restaurant closer to town, but they’re not re-opening that yet.
That venue, Etties, is larger and usually about half its customers would be from interstate or overseas.
“So we closed that down, laid all the staff off, so we’re just waiting to be able to have more people in so we can open that space up.”
For Mr Windsor, it is sad but perhaps not surprising that there has already been one high-profile, fine-dining closure because of coronavirus in Tasmania.
Franklin, a high-end Hobart bar and restaurant relying almost entirely on interstate visitors, has permanently shut its doors.
It was one of the restaurants that helped build Tasmania’s reputation as a foodie hotspot, drawing interstate and international visitors to the island.
With Tasmania’s borders closed for the foreseeable future, there are concerns Franklin might not be the only restaurant to be forced to close.
“It’s really horrible because I know how much hard work everybody puts into their venues.”
More restaurant casualties expected
Franklin was part of Peppermint Bay Group, and general manager Katrina Birchmeier said it had had a “good run” during the six years it was open.
“We’ve been very fortunate with the level of trade through here,” she said.
Franklin was well-known and respected interstate, scoring two hats in the most recent Good Food Guide and having previously hosted celebrity chefs such as Nigella Lawson.
“We were just looking at the uncertainty of borders reopening and we had to make a choice,” Ms Birchmeier said.
“I do think there will be more casualties in the industry across Australia and across the world.
‘Winter of the 1990s’ without Dark Mofo
For Tasmania’s large high-end restaurants, Dark Mofo has been crucial to viability during the state’s cold and previously tourist-scarce winter.
Dark Mofo was one of the first public events to be cancelled because of the pandemic in Australia, with MONA founder David Walsh seeing the writing on the wall early.
“June was generally one of the biggest months for Franklin,” Ms Birchmeier said.
Carl Windsor agrees.
His business had a stall at Dark Mofo’s Winter Feast, and did well out of the hordes of interstate visitors heading to the wine bar and restaurant.
“Winter was so quiet back in the 1990s but there were a lot fewer restaurants, so restaurants were able to survive through that.
“And the last five to six years, Dark Mofo has given us a really great injection in the quietest time of the year.
“And that’s the really scary part, what we could potentially lose there.”
Warning of restaurant price rises
The closure of Franklin is reverberating around Tasmania’s food industry.
Rodney Dunn runs the Agrarian Kitchen, in the Derwent Valley north of Hobart.
He said the impact of Franklin closing would be huge, especially for businesses with similar models and clientele.
“Tasmania’s a small place and critical mass is important in terms of attracting those people,” Mr Dunn said.
“People want to come down and explore multiple restaurants, not just come for one thing. They’ve got a weekend to fill or a long weekend to fill.”
The Agrarian Kitchen, normally an eatery and paddock-to-plate cooking school popular with interstate visitors, will start a family-friendly takeaway option this weekend.
“It just gives us a bit of a different outlet, it’s exciting for our staff and it just means we can start cooking again,” Mr Dunn said.
He and wife Severine Demanet plan to open the restaurant again, but expect it to look different, with a more viable set-course menu.
Mr Dunn said he thought the pandemic might change the way the hospitality industry needed to operate.
“Eating out is basically very cheap,” he said.
“Hospitality prices haven’t gone up for a long time, so I hope it’s a good opportunity for everybody to reset and make their business sustainable.
Flow-on effects for suppliers, producers
Katrina Birchmeier said the Franklin closure and coronavirus impact on other restaurants would likely have a chain reaction affecting suppliers and producers.
“There will be real flow-on effects that we don’t even know the extent of yet,” she said.
In Hobart’s CBD, some producers have taken the opportunity to join a new “greengrocer” market run by the team behind Dark Mofo, branching out while their restaurants are closed.
Steven Browing from Bruny Island Seafood said he expected there would be other restaurants that would not recover from the pandemic.
“Some people aren’t going to come through it, and we are going to see some part some parts of the market shut for quite a while, and that’s always disappointing especially as a producer and there’s not much we can do about it except hope,” he said.
“We need the restaurants obviously, and they need us and they need the [customers] and if we can’t all come together then someone’s going to suffer.
“And generally it’ll be the little guys, so hopefully they stay open.”
‘Slowly, slowly’ approach welcomed
Back in North Hobart, Carl Windsor and James Kingston do not expect that having 10 patrons in a sitting will be a money-spinner.
“Yes we’ll be making money, but only because we’ve got rent relief from our landlord, and the Government is paying the majority of our wages,” Mr Windsor said.
“But that money’s obviously then earmarked to go back and pay suppliers who’ve been waiting patiently to get paid since we had to shut down in March.”
But he said like most in the industry, he appreciated the Government’s “slowly, slowly” approach to easing restrictions, because no one wanted a second wave of coronavirus.