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'We lost $2.5k': Brutal setback for Melbourne businesses

Grand Lafayette has struggled under the restrictions. Images: Getty, Grand Lafayette

Melbourne businesses have been left thousands of dollars out-of-pocket after Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced the planned loosening of dine-in restrictions would not go ahead. 

As of Monday 22 June, restaurants and cafes had planned to increase capacity from 20 people to 50 people, space permitting.

But those plans were scuppered on Saturday as Victoria marked its highest daily increase in coronavirus cases in two months, forcing the government to postpone the patron increase to 12 July. 

For Solar Liang and Monique Wu, the owners of Japanese restaurants Grand Lafayette and Cafe Lafayette in Prahran and the Melbourne CBD, the decision has cost thousands of dollars. 

“[It’s had a] serious impact, it’s bad news for my business,” Liang told Yahoo Finance

The business had ordered around $2,500 worth of stock that will now largely go to waste. But for Liang, the hardest part is the impact on staff members. 

“I feel sorry for my staff. I promised them a few weeks ago, ‘On the 22nd, we can open. You guys can resume your work.’

“But now the 20 people restriction means I can’t, and that’s very hard.” 

Grand Lafayette is still serving baked goods and coffee, but Liang said the inability to open the restaurants in a significant way is a major challenge. 

He’s not alone. South Yarra’s Dilly Daly Cafe owner Melissa Glentis said customers are also cancelling due to concerns around going out. 

“What it also means is we have to start preparing ourselves for another potential lockdown. As a cafe owner I’m just constantly on edge worrying about what we have to deal with next, with potentially little to no notice. I’m tired and just want to be able to sleep again at night,” Glentis said. 

The Chapel Street Precinct in South Yarra, Prahran and Windsor is struggling under the pressure, according to precinct general manager Chrissie Maus. 

“Chapel Street Precinct is not in a hot spot for the virus and many of our businesses have now lost more money preparing for today, thinking they would have increased patrons and pre bought food is now going to charities,” Maus said. 

“It’s not only the Chapel Street businesses that are affected, it’s the social flow-on effect, and it is devastating. So many functions are now being cancelled – many were celebrations where friends were getting back together. Musicians being cancelled who were booked to perform at these functions.”

Maus said her “heart is breaking for them” and called on Australians to support local businesses. 

“We must do everything we can right now so we see as many businesses come out of the pandemic and once again thrive.”

How one business is riding the wave

For Abbotsford restaurant and cafe, 8 Murray Street, the reinforced restrictions have been painful, but could have been far worse. 

Early on in the lockdown period, a sudden change in state policy left owners Mos Yangnouvong, Jediah Ventham and Eli Kusters without stock. They’d given away produce to staff, believing they had to close entirely, before discovering that they could in fact still operate as a takeaway business. 

“Because of that, we had to close for a few days and reopen,” Ventham told Yahoo Finance

“But because of that, we’ve had a very short-term plan so we only really work a couple of days ahead.” 

The biggest challenge has been the size of bookings: with an outdoor section, they have been able to have 45 patrons. 

“The main thing that changes is this morning we had a booking for eight people, and we had to tell them that they had to go down to six and we had to split the tables up,” Kusters said. 

But a focus on producing food in-house has allowed the business to remain nimble and pursue secondary sources of revenue. 

While 8 Murray Street had been planning to enter the wholesale space for a while, social isolation rules meant that business strategy suddenly became much more important. 

Now, customers coming in to grab a coffee also have the option to pick up jars of Yangnouvong’s chilli oil, dukha, coconut yoghurt, jam or chilli salt, along with staples like milk, cheese and eggs. 

“Our wholesale game got really strong because of the support that we have from our customers wanting to help and pushing us to make more [wholesale items] so they could support us,” Yangnouvong said. 

As a business in a residential area, they’ve actually seen customer numbers increase over lockdown as locals took to exploring new coffee options - one of the few excuses to get out of the house. 

Ventham said it was also important to ensure the business focused on strategies that would continue beyond Covid-19, including the wholesale model. 

“It’s important to stay true to yourself, not undercut your prices and make sure you’re putting out quality things and not wasting time and money on things that might only last for a short period of time,” Ventham said.

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