The hospitality industry has been forced to re-invent their business models to takeaway food only in an attempt to stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic, while many have chosen to shut their kitchens completely.
Hospitality businesses in Daylesford have been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic that has limited their offerings and cut their link to the tourist dollar with restrictions on movement.
Daylesford’s new Italian restaurant Beppe opened its doors to the public for the first time on March 19, two days before the first set of restrictions in response to COVID-19 were brought in.
Initially, a four square metres per person rule limited the number of customers in restaurants and bars. Soon after restaurants were told they would be limited to takeaway meals only.
When The Courier spoke to Beppe co-owner Sam Mackley after the first set of restrictions were brought in she said she was feeling ‘dreadful’.
One month later, Ms Mackley this week said she was now feeling ‘optimistic’ the new restaurant would survive the pandemic on a takeaway only model.
I am feeling optimistic now we can see we can do this.
Sam Mackley, Beppe
“I am feeling optimistic now we can see we can do this,” she said.
“I remember feeling at the time really sad and really dreadful. I still feel that way because we have lost staff over this and there are people that have been worse off.
Unfortunately some of our front of house team were unable to continue working. Some were on working holiday visas and they have had to leave.
“I really miss them and they were part of our journey of setting up the restaurant, but we have a really great team of chefs who are still with us and they have ensured we have been able to stay in business.”
Ms Mackley and Beppe co-owner Liam Thornycroft went to school together and have long worked in hospitality in Daylesford.
They purchased cafe and produce store Cliffy’s Emporium two years ago and worked to bring back the store’s 1950s charm by filling it with local produce and wares.
Ms Mackley said she was proud of the local following at Cliffy’s and was sad to shut the cafe and store when the COVID-19 restrictions on hospitality came in.
“I estimate it is about 50 per cent locals, which is a lot given we are a tourism driven town,” she said.
The idea for Beppe came to life when Mercato restaurant across the road from Cliffy’s came up for sale.
“We thought it would be a great opportunity to put a restaurant in there that we wanted to see in town,” Ms Mackley said.
“We really wanted an Italian restaurant in town that does woodfired Naples style pizza. We wanted somewhere to go that had handmade pasta, our favourite Italian slaw and woodfired garlic bread we create with pizza dough.
“We have received a really great response from the community – they were all wanting something like this as well.”
Ms Mackley said she and the team spent a lot of time converting a fine dining restaurant into a relaxed dining space for Beppe
“We incorporated touches that were meaningful to our business, to our town and to the building. We are very conscious we want to be here for a long time,” she said.
“We engaged a local artist Kim Barter and she went to the local museum and found images of Italian migrants to the area in the 1800s.
“It is an 1800s building that was originally run by a Greek migrant and it was called the Athens Hotel, so it is about connecting those dots. She painted all those characters and we call them the Beppe characters, Maria, Mario, Rosa and Giuseppe which is where the name Beppe comes from.”
“We spent a lot of time setting the restaurant up for service, sorting out the table placement and the functionality of the bar, and then we had to completely forget all that and go to a takeaway business model, which was challenging.”
Ms Mackley said Beppe only traded for two nights at full capacity before the coronavirus restrictions were brought in.
“We had two days of regular trading where we had a full restaurant and got to experience the buzz and the feeling of it. But we sort of new something was coming and we weren’t able to enjoy that for a very long time,” she said.
“We had one night where it was the one person for four square metre rule, we were down to less than 20 per cent of our actual capacity, which was a weird feeling, but we had so much support from people coming in to get takeaways. Then it became take away only.”
Ms Mackley said business had been ‘up and down’ since, with some ‘really dismal days’, but at this stage it was sustainable for the restaurant to remain open.
“We are creating new things people can get excited about so it is not just the same old same old and offering something different to what else is available around town as well,” she said.
“Unfortunately I don’t think we are going to qualify for the JobKeeper program so we are up for a bit of a challenge with that at Beppe.
“As owners we don’t take a wage from the business. We are just paying the chefs and trying to save every dollar we can. Our landlord has been very supportive and very understanding as well which has been very helpful.
“At the moment I am optimistic. We don’t want to go anywhere. We want to be here for a long time, so we don’t want to close the doors.”
Ms Mackley said Cliffy’s had been closed since late March, but she hoped they would be able to re-open the business soon with the support of the JobKeeper program.
In the meantime, produce from Cliffy’s had been brought to Beppe to sell along with pick up and deliveries of restaurant food.
Ms Mackley said a number of other hospitality businesses in Daylesford remained open, while quite a few decided to shut.
With no tourists in town due to restrictions on travel, customer numbers are significantly reduced.
“Usually this town is full and you can’t get a park in the main street with so many extra people in the town,” Ms Mackley said.
“We do have to scale back and we can not go back to full speed any time soon. It will be a big party when the restrictions are lifted, I can’t wait.”
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