By Leigh O’Connor.
As Melburnians enter their fourth week of COVID-19 lockdown, many are finding it tough to stay positive, as case numbers slowly come down. We want to share some feel-good stories with you from local restaurateurs and how they are coping in an industry, which has been ravaged by the pandemic.
Gina Goldsmith, owner of The Stables Restaurant in the regional Victorian town of Malmsbury, says there’s no question these are different times.
"Our revenue is about 50% down from that of the first lockdown,” she explains. "Our situation is a little different in that we are part of a small country town and our usual customers are not travelling the 20km-30km to visit us; and because of those same distances, we don’t deliver.
"We’re a tourist destination and we’re missing the Melburnians as well.”
Gina is currently offering takeaway pizza and pasta from the restaurant’s kitchen and also wants to share the recipe of one of her customers’ favourite dishes – traditional rabbit stifado.
"When I lived on the island of Rhodes, I visited a little taverna called ‘Koutouki’, high up in the mountains. It wasn’t a tourist restaurant, just locals, and I ordered the rabbit stifado (stew). I told the little Greek lady, who cooked everything over a wood fire, it was fabulous and asked her for the recipe, to no avail,” she recalls.
"She told me it was handed down from her mother. After many visits over the year, I nagged her and in the end, she succumbed and let me watch her make it.”
Determined to keep the jig going during lockdown, Irish pub The Last Jar has been streaming live music sessions on Facebook and Zoom. A hub for Melbourne’s Irish community, publican Chris Fitzgerald moved the weekly ‘trad’ music session to this Elizabeth Street venue in 2016, when he took over the reins.
"The session welcomes players and singers of all levels, hosting 20-35 musicians a week and has run continuously for more than 17 years, only breaking for Christmas and New Year,” Chris explains.
Determined to maintain this continuity despite trying conditions, Chris streamed himself playing a weekly ‘sesh-one’ in March, using Facebook live. This expanded to Zoom, so others could be involved.
"We continue to stream every week because our regulars appreciate the contact and seeing their mates.”
Each Wednesday, you can view the stream, via The Last Jar’s Facebook page…everyone and anyone is welcome.
Yarra Glen vineyard Zonzo Estate has felt a tremendous amount of support from the local community during the lockdown, with many customers contacting staff to see how they are going.
The winery is currently offering a range of premium wines and spirits online through their website, along with a range of gift hampers, which can be shipped to your door.
Tanya Hanouch, owner of Wolfe & Molone in Bentleigh, says things have been tough but she remains optimistic.
"People just need to do the right thing for now. We have created a few initiatives to support our community and surrounds, including a range of weekly-changing dinner packs, which have been flying out the door,” she says.
Locals can grab a pack for two for just $45, or $84 for four – which include three courses of a soup, main with side and dessert.
Dinner packs from Wolfe & Molone
"The key for us during this period, is that we don’t want to be charging exorbitant amounts, as we know many are doing it tough. For us, it’s about creating our Wolfe & Molone experience at home; we also have a few other packs, which come with our batches of cocktails and flights of wine.”
The restaurant has also created a virtual tasting room, which runs events at home – including whisky and gin masterclasses, wine evenings with winemakers and private virtual events, click here for more info.
"This is how we are creating all the experiences our customers enjoy inhouse, now in theirs. We see that post-pandemic, we will continue many of these experiences,” Tanya explains.
Get comfy on the couch with a loved one and have an Iso date night with a grazing box from Alice Rebel’s Café in Chelsea. Let owner Meg Anderson do the hard work for you, with a delicious selection of deli meats, cheese, dips, crackers and mini sweets, vegan options also available.
"We have been doing Pay it Forward, Date Night grazing boxes, fresh produce boxes and craft beer; we recently launched pre-ordering through WOWAPPS.”
Not only has the Fish Tank restaurant in Brighton had to face the trials and tribulations of the COVID pandemic, they have also had to endure roadworks and closures right outside the venue.
Owner Zsazsa says their locals have continued to support the restaurant, which they are incredibly appreciative of. Fresh seafood is available for take away and delivery, as well as take-home meals, click here.
Have high tea delivered to your door every day and spoil your special lockdown someone with sandwiches, scones, jam and cream and delectable bites like macarons and cupcakes – all from Bad Habits Café at The Convent in Daylesford.
To really make it an celebration, add a bottle of champagne for an additional $30; high tea just $45 per person and can be picked up, or delivered for $5 up to 5km from the café. For further away, additional delivery fees apply, please order by calling (03) 5348 3211 a day in advance.
High tea at home from Bad Habits cafe
You name it…The Bungalow Restaurant in Drysdale has probably done it during the COVID pandemic. One of the most successful promotions was a simple Muffin Off competition, where customers would suggest flavours – the more creative the better – and if their muffin was made, they got to try it for free.
Owner Kerry Bell says the restaurant has also delivered weekly meals to the most vulnerable in the community and promoted pay-it-forward coffee for emergency services.
Caramel popcorn and toffee muffins from The Bungalow Restaurant
Victorians can experience dining at Russo Estate Winery & Restaurant at home, with their new ‘Heat n Dine’ options. This Diggers Rest vineyard is offering locals (within a 30km radius) their winery and a la carte menu, with Chef-prepared meals cooked, vacuum sealed and delivered, complete with heating instructions.
You can have your favourite on the table in just under 15 minutes and all meals can be consumed within five days.
"We have had such great feedback from our locals with our prices as well,” says owner Vanessa Russo. "We are keeping our prices low during these hard times, we believe we need to support our community and are adapting to this situation the best we can.”
Which one will you choose? Quarantini time at The Winery Kitchen
It’s quarantini time at The Winery Kitchen, nestled inside the picturesque Somerset Crossing Vineyard in rural Seymour. Locals can order up to four cocktails with any meal for pick up or delivery, from Wednesday to Sunday.
Sip a Lime Mojito, Moscow Mule, Aperol Spritz, Espresso Martini, or Negroni from the comfort of your couch, as this venue tries everything it can to totally reinvent their business in a small country town. Call (03) 5792 2330 to order your favourite tipple.
Tian38, located in Melbourne’s CBD, has converted to a charity kitchen every Wednesday, delivering hot meals and care packages to those who have fallen through the Social Welfare net.
Co-owner and Head Chef, Alan Chong says COVID-19 has done something strange, that other disasters haven’t.
"Social distancing, isolation and restrictions, which have been designed to protect us, have also kept us away from a stark reality,” he says. "Each passing the week the number of people we try to help is growing.
"From international students to the unemployed, who aren’t eligible for JobKeeper or JobSeeker, a very challenging time has unfolded; with COVID-19 revealing who the vulnerable and disenfranchised are.”
Alan says the silver lining in all this has been the community rallying to support Melbourne’s vulnerable.
"Donations of money, food and goods have come through to help those in need and we’ve been a vessel, which has allowed the community to express its support.”
Tian 38 in Melbourne's CBD
Know a local business trying to help out, or a feel-good story we should know about? Click here to share your thoughts.