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Melbourne pub’s lockdown loophole amid ‘cataclysmic’ coronavirus

Melbourne's The Emerson got wheels. Source: Getty
Melbourne's The Emerson got wheels. Source: Getty

This is part of our Pivot Series, where Yahoo Finance tracks stories of small business survival tactics during the coronavirus crisis.

Mark Hinkley’s hospitality group, Tadcaster Hospitality, has several restaurants across Australia, Singapore and the Philippines, and while Hinkley says they planned for pretty much every hospitality trend that could hit them, they never planned for a global pandemic quite like this.

“We pretty much predicted any hospitality trends across the world, for example if there was a stock market crash in Australia, Singapore could pick up the weight,” Hinkley told Yahoo Finance.


“But none of us ever really planned for all 26 of our venues to be shut at the same time.”

It’s a shift Hinkley described as “cataclysmic”.

“To put it into perspective, Easter we would normally do around a quarter of a million dollars for the weekend,” he said. “We’ll probably now end up doing around $20,000.”

Across the business, Hinkley said they’ve had to retrench around 95 per cent of staff. At the group’s popular Melbourne pub venue, the Emerson, 87 staff dwindled to just six.

“And then if you add in the subsequent industries which also support us, the 20 to 30 DJs which we have every weekend, the cleaners, the delivery drivers, the photographers, the bakers, the PR people, graphic designers, social media experts - it’s quite astonishing.”

And given the evolving lockdown measures, it was tough on staff members who saw their hours cut.

“Some people were very good, but people deal with crises in very different ways. Some of our key staff who were quite staunch in the industry really went to water,” he said.

“Their whole world stopped, and they didn’t know where to go next,” added The Emerson’s business development manager, Lauren Turner.

But through the Emerson’s staff Facebook group, around 50 staff members were able to get placed into new jobs with Hinkley and other employee connections.

With staff members cut, the group’s Melbourne venue needed to transform.

The Emerson gets wheels

While it’s easy to get caught in the doom and gloom of the situation, Turner decided to get into gear and transform The Emerson’s business strategy to The Emerson on Wheels.

The new strategy is an alcohol delivery service directly to your doorstep between 10am and 10pm daily, so that those who can’t party at a pub can do so while they’re stuck at home.

“It’s more that Uber takes a large percentage of your profits, and lots of our regulars wanted to support us directly. So we saw an opening to deliver alcohol directly to them,” Turner said.

“We also do cocktail packs, and we’re just about to do freshly-made cocktails, which has been gaining a lot of interest.

“We’re just bringing The Emerson to them.”

And so far, loyal customers have welcomed the business’ pivot strategy.

“We’ve done a few deliveries to our loyal customers, and the traction on our Facebook - we’ve just posted it with no money behind it - has been unbelievable,” Turner said.

Hinkley says it’s “heartwarming” to see the support.

“All the people that have supported us over the years, they’re really getting behind us,” he said.

“Companies that used to always come in for Friday night drinks - a lot of those regulars have been supporting us too.”

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