'It's like another kick in the guts': Restaurant owners in Melbourne on how they're tackling the 2nd round of lockdowns

Melbournians have been hit with stage three lockdowns once again (Photo by Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images)
  • Restaurant owners in Melbourne shared what lessons they’ve learned from the first round of lockdowns, now that the city is under stage three restrictions once again.
  • Tipico owner Marco Scalisi was disappointed when he learned about new lockdowns, but said the business was “a little bit more prepared” this time around.
  • The owner of burger joint Royal Stacks said the second round of restrictions was “deflating” because “you fight so hard for a while and then all of a sudden it’s like another kick in the guts.”
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Restaurant owners braced themselves once again as Melbourne returned to stage three lockdowns.

Melbourne and Mitchell Shire re-entered stage three lockdowns for six weeks starting Wednesday July 8, after the number of coronavirus cases continued to rise. It means residents can only leave their homes for four reasons: essential shopping, exercise, giving or receiving medical care and going to work if it cannot be done at home.

It was another blow to the regions after the initial round of restrictions were enforced in March, when Prime Minister Scott Morrison ordered the closure of restaurants, pubs and clubs across the country except for takeaway and delivery. In Victoria, restrictions had later eased to allow up to 20 people to dine in at hospitality venues.

But now – once again – restaurants and cafes in Melbourne and Mitchell Shire can only open for takeaway and delivery. Pubs, bars and nightclubs will be closed, but are allowed to offer takeaway and delivery services of food and alcohol.

Restaurant owners expressed their feelings of the second round of lockdowns

Marco Scalisi, co-owner of Italian restaurant Tipico, told Business Insider Australia that as a citizen he wasn’t upset at the lockdowns. “I totally understand because we want safety first,” he said.

But it’s a different story when it came to his position as a business owner. He described how, during the first round of lockdowns, Tipico decided to refurbish. It did away with its pizza oven, repainted the restaurant, modified the entrance and created a new menu.

“We decided to sell the pizza [oven] and focus on what we do better than anywhere else – at least in our side of the city – which is pasta, fresh pasta,” he said.

But unfortunately, that only lasted just over a month before the restrictions came back again. Scalisi said that while things were scarier during the first round of lockdowns, this time the business was more prepared.

“We kind of know what we’re expecting for the next few weeks. So, obviously, we are a little bit more prepared,” he said.

In addition to offering takeaways, Tipico also offers online masterclasses.

“That’s why I’m not so stressed,” Scalisi explained. “[Because] we said we need to find other ways to make some money to make sure that the business survives through the lockdown.”

Every three weeks the company does online masterclasses where it teaches customers how to cook a range of meals in their homes including gnocchi, pasta, tiramisu, and other Italian delicacies.

Once customers buy a ticket they receive a box of ingredients, and on the day of the masterclass, they connect to the event on Zoom prepare their meals alongside others. Scalisi said the events are very interactive, with customers able to ask questions or share tips.

Tipico is also doing corporate events and team building activities in Melbourne, regional Victoria, interstate, as well as internationally in places like New York and Hong Kong.

“We’re focusing even more this time round… into this project,” Scalisi said. “And it’s been very good.”

“It’s like another kick in the guts”

For Dani Zeini, founder of burger joint Royal Stacks, hearing about the second round of lockdowns was “deflating” because “you fight so hard for a while and then all of a sudden it’s like another kick in the guts.”

This was a different sentiment to when restrictions first set in earlier this year. With a lot of Royal Stacks employees being on international visas, Zeini said during the first round of lockdowns, the company was able to rally together to support them as they couldn’t get any government assistance. This included putting $300 a week aside from its takings and distributing it equally among the staff.

“We took the opportunity to be a little creative and try different things and really explore
what the new normal means,” he said.

This time around Zeini described the sentiment as being more like, “Oh no, here we go, not again”. He added that the business didn’t have the same momentum as it did the first time.

What the company learned from the first round of lockdowns was making sure customers felt safe and secure.

Zeini went on to say how customers have been supporting the businesses by upsizing their meals. “I think I’ve got the best customers in the world,” he said. “The customers have made us feel really valued.”

Right now, the company is focusing on its menu. It recently launched a “brinner menu” – a combination of breakfast and dinner – which involves all-day breakfast and even mixing of breakfast and dinner items.

Royal Stacks will also be rolling out a cocktail delivery menu to create a sense of escapism. There will be six or seven bevvies, where the company will pre-make the cocktails and garnish them with an umbrella.

“So when you’re at home you can relax, have a cocktail, put that garnish with the umbrella and pretend you’re somewhere else for a moment,” Zeini said.

“It was a chance for the kitchen team to be more creative”

Melbourne-based Indonesian restaurant Makan was founded by sisters Tasia and Gracia Seger, who you may remember as the winners of “My Kitchen Rules” in 2016. They told Business Insider Australia that while their team felt “devastated” upon hearing of the second round of lockdowns, they acknowledged that it was necessary.

“It has to be done for the greater good,” Tasia said.

In the past, Makan didn’t offer deliveries, instead focusing on dine-ins and occasional takeaways. But since the restrictions were implemented, the company had to adapt to new demands. It offered delivery through Easi, and also launched its own delivery through the platform Gloria Food.

The restaurant then created the ‘Makan Feast’ every week for customers – ready made meals on a rotating menu which showcased Indonesian cuisine customers could order either for two or four people.

Gracia said one of the biggest lessons for their team was about being innovative.

“It was a chance for the kitchen team to be more creative and innovative because what you’re trying to do is provide people with a little bit more affordable meals and a lot more options,” she said.

During these latest restrictions, Makan has expanded its delivery reach from just the CBD to the city suburbs. Every day the restaurant transports meals to a different lot of suburbs.

Overall, Gracia described the situation as a “learning curve”.

“It’s been a challenge, of course, but it’s been such a big learning curve,” she said. “Who would have known this would happen. It’s just been a lot of teamwork, a lot of patience and just carrying on day by day.”

Some restaurants may not reopen in their current form

Gramercy Social in Prahran is one of a number of restaurants unlikely to operate in their current form after the lockdowns.

Gramercy Social operations manager James Bolton told Business Insider Australia the lockdowns have had a significant impact, because around 60% of Gramercy’s sales are generated from in-person sales at the Cullen Hotel, where it is located but operates independently.

During the lockdowns, some staff members at Gramercy were stood down, others were made redundant and others resigned. In May, Gramercy closed its night-time offering completely and around June, it opened a pop up called Golda which served dinner only.

Bolton added that Golda had been “well-received” and following this latest round of restrictions, the company is going to rebadge (relaunch) Gramercy into Golda.

“Because of the impacts of the coronavirus we’ve had to make some very quick and drastic decisions and one of those decisions will now be that coming out of this next lockdown Gramercy will not reopen and we will rebadge [to] Golda,” Bolton said, adding that it will offer breakfast, lunch and dinner as opposed to just dinner.

With this round of restrictions, Bolton said the team was “disappointed and a little bit gutted” because of the momentum it was experiencing with Golda. But it’s looking forward to the relaunch.

“It is exciting,” Bolton said. “We’re not completely disheartened by this – we’re disappointed obviously – but we know we have an amazing product with Golda and we know that we have now [five] weeks to relaunch with that and come out even stronger from this second lot of restrictions.”

Correction: The correct name of Gramercy Social’s operations manager is James Bolton.

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