4 August 2020

COVID-19 no match for crafty Canberra businesses

| Henry Jacobs
Klarisa Cengic (left) with staff at The Goods Wholefoods.

Klarisa Cengic (left, with staff), owner of The Goods Wholefoods, reinvented her business model during COVID-19 lockdown. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

When Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced strict COVID-19 social distancing measures in late March, Canberra’s hospitality sector fell to its knees. As doors closed, revenues plummeted, jobs were lost and people’s livelihoods were left on edge.

But in a city that’s seen its fair share of hardship, local business owners came together as they were determined not to be beaten by COVID-19.

Lincoln Fairleigh

Lincoln Fairleigh, owner of Lava Espresso, had to transform his operation to takeaway and delivery only. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Lincoln Fairleigh owns Lava Espresso cafes in Weston and Phillip and, like many others, had to transform his operation to takeaway and delivery only. Many restaurateurs weren’t as lucky and closed their doors – at least temporarily – leaving members of the public confused.

So Lincoln started the website CBR is Still Open.

“We set up the website in response to COVID-19 as a way of letting Canberra foodies know what’s still open in the region and all the businesses that are doing good things to adapt to social distancing measures,” he says.

“Basically just letting people know where they can go out and enjoy their food.”

The platform immediately took off and continues to grow in popularity with more than 300 listings and 80,000 unique visits from consumers looking to support locals. It even helped long-time foodie Lincoln expand his own horizons.

“I’m based on the south side so it’s been great to hear about some of the places on the north side that are doing good things,” he says.

“There’s been a few times when I’ve gone on there to try to find a new place and there’s some really cool stuff.”

As the ACT Government continues to ease restrictions, Lincoln says there’s no better time for Canberrans to try something new.

“Keep getting out there, keep supporting your favourite local places and hopefully if we continue doing the right thing it will get back to normal,” he says.

Staff at The Goods Wholefoods.

Staff at The Goods Wholefoods in the Canberra CBD. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Klarisa Cengic from The Goods Wholefoods was one of the unlucky ones. Her health foods cafe and salad bar thrived in its city location – a factor that was its undoing.

“Because we’re so central, we rely on private enterprise and public servants working from their offices,” she says.

“When the shutdown happened, it was really challenging because all of our trade was told to work from home and we basically had no foot traffic. It was a roller-coaster of emotion.”

Klarisa was able to keep some revenue coming in by developing a once-a-week, order-ahead, pick up and delivery model to keep customers engaged.

Ever optimistic, she also used the COVID-19 shutdown to make changes to her business model.

Customer being served at The Goods Wholefoods.

The Goods Wholefoods aims to provide people with healthy, real food. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

“I ended up using all the time we were closed to totally reinvent what we do,” she says. “It was a good opportunity to stop and look at why we exist – which is to provide people with good, healthy, real food.

“I just wanted it to be more of a place where anyone and everyone can come for a meal. What we were doing before wasn’t really as accessible.”

Klarisa has always used predominantly Canberra suppliers, but saw an opportunity to transition to fully local producers, including changing her coffee provider to Redbrick Coffee.

“I was having a coffee one day and wondered, ‘Why aren’t I using Redbrick?’ when we use local for everything else,” she says. “I love Redbrick. I love their coffee and I love the fact it’s local. I think that whole local push is exactly what we need.”

Capital Brewing Co team at taproom in Fyshwick.

Dan Watters (front) with the Capital Brewing Co team at its taproom in Fyshwick. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The shutdown hit Canberra craft beer icon Capital Brewing Co from both sides. Revenue dropped almost 70 per cent overnight as the 550 licensed premises it supplies closed; its award-winning taproom followed suit; and popular events such as Floriade were cancelled.

“For a while, our only revenue stream was our packaged sales to bottle shops,” says Capital Brewing Co’s community engagement manager, Dan Watters. “We’d like to thank the good people of Canberra who chose and continue to buy locally made beer.

“Without a doubt that has resulted in us being able to keep locals employed and keep the company running.”

Social distancing restrictions mean Capital’s venue can hold less than a quarter of its nearly 1000-person capacity. But the recent COVID-19 cluster linked to Sydney’s Crossroads Hotel serves as a reminder that things could be worse.

Staff pouring beer at Capital Brewing Co taproom.

Capital Brewing Co had to close its taproom during COVID-19 lockdown. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

“Capital has always been dedicated to supporting our local community,” says Dan. “In our time of need, we’ve been humbled to see our local community return the favour.

“It’s a beautiful cyclical thing – supporting each other in our times of need. We look forward to repaying the support.”

To find out more about how you can support local Canberra businesses, visit the ACT Government’s Choose Local website. You can also share your support for local businesses on social media via #CBRtogether.

Original Article published by Henry Jacobs on The RiotACT.

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