A Sydney Thai restaurant which became a lifeline for struggling international students during the coronavirus lockdown will be shuttering its doors from today.
During the early days of the pandemic, Jumbo Thai in Haymarket became known for queues which snaked hundreds of metres as students lined up for free meals.
But despite owner Jack Anuwat’s generosity — and an easing of restrictions in June — his business won’t survive the end of the lockdown.
“I realised when we started to unlock, the customers didn’t come back like before,” Mr Anuwat said.
“Many people work from home, students study online. No students means no people walking, no tourists, no one’s in Chinatown coming here.
“That’s why we can’t survive.”
With revenue falling 70 per cent, Mr Anuwat can no longer afford the rent for the shop he’s run since 2014.
“They can’t give rent relief or discount anything. When you’re earning less than your expenses, then the business has to stop.”
Mr Anuwat said he understood the situation was mostly out of his control.
“I do believe the government cannot do much, they’ve done the good thing already,” he said.
“Even if they try to give you everything, even free rent … how can you find customers when the borders are closed?”
‘I wanted to help them’
During the peak of the pandemic, the restaurant became a good news story, handing out free food to international students who missed out on government support.
Mr Anuwat said he was concerned for foreign students forced to quarantine alone with no family in Australia.
“I used to be a student when I came to Australia … I wanted to help them.”
Others in the community were inspired by Jumbo Thai’s generosity.
Mr Anuwat said he knew of a dentist and a lawyer in the Thai community who each offered their services at a discount.
“The community started to give a hand to each other. An old man told me, ‘It reminds me of old Australia, we used to be like that’.”
Mr Anuwat said he was at peace with closing down, but felt sad for the customers and wished he didn’t have to let his nine staff members go.
“Closing down of businesses is the new normal … COVID is a global situation not my personal situation.”
Still, he is hopeful for the future.
“I’ve lost one business but that doesn’t mean I lose my confidence,” he said.
“The ideas, the ability, are still in my mind — nobody can take it.”
The Pyrmont branch of Jumbo Thai, also run by Mr Anuwat, remains open, helped by a 40 per cent rent reduction and patrons from the nearby Star Casino.
“I have to concentrate on what I have left … even though I’ve lost one arm, I can make the other arm stronger.”