Sudden impact: Hospitality businesses react to sudden lockdown

Adapting to change: FoodCo managing director Rodney Murphy was one of countless hospitality operators in the region sprung by Saturday's sudden lockdown decision. photograph zac standish


CAFES and restaurants across the Latrobe Valley were left reeling last Saturday morning as a sudden lockdown announcement by Premier Daniel Andrews forced them to close halfway through a busy lunchtime rush.

Although many might have had an inkling of what was set to transpire due to the COVID situation unfolding in Shepparton on Friday, the immediacy of the decision did take some by surprise as businesses were only given two hours’ notice before having to close their doors.

Located right in the heart of Traralgon, Café Evviva owner Joe Tripodi detailed his experiences from Saturday morning.

“We went into Saturday morning expecting something was going to happen that day, based on what was happening in Shepparton, so were anxiously waiting for the press conference while in the meantime we were already full booked out across the day,” he said.

“I had in the back of my mind, based on the recent history, that we would not be trading that night so I planned accordingly and warned my staff.

“I was hoping that it would be 11.59pm, and then I thought it might be 8pm so we might get half of our dinner service through, then I though it is going to 5pm but throughout that whole morning I did not expect it to be 1pm – at the time of the announcement it was already 11am and we already had a fully booked lunch so we had to contact all those customers to cancel and it really threw us off for a bit.”

For popular Franklin Street eatery FoodCo it was a relatively similar story, as managing director Rodney Murphy was forced to put to an early end to what was turning out to be a very plentiful Saturday morning rush.

“Being such a great weather day we were very busy all morning, and I think it was at about 10am that we actually heard some customers saying there was going to be a lockdown announcement,” Mr Murphy said.

“So we pretty much cruised through to 1pm staying very busy and then when 1pm hit immediately went to takeaway, there was nothing we could do about it as once it’s called it’s called.

“It is a little bit frustrating (only getting two hours’ notice) but we have done it so many times before it has become a bit of a game really, we are the lucky ones that can turn over to takeaway quite quickly and there is a lot of restaurants and function centres that are a lot worse off than us.”

He said after the lockdown was announced, locals streamed to the café in large numbers to have one last sit down meal.

“We did get a huge rush of people (after the announcement) but it had been a busy morning anyway due to things like park run and the beautiful weather, so we were certainly braced for that to be the case,” he said.

“It was almost as if it was a train wreck, where had gathered all this momentum and right up until 1pm we could feel people were just desperate to get that last meal in but then by five past we were completely dead.

“The customers didn’t seem hostile or anything about it though, you could tell they all understood what was going on and we thank them for that.”

Following the 1pm shut down, businesses like Café Evviva were then faced with the unpleasant question of what to do with the stock they had prepped for what was supposed to be an extremely busy day of trade.

Mr Tripodi said some quick thinking and fantastic community support saw the establishment manage to just about break even.

“We had a cool room chocka blocked full of stock, based on a very busy weekend we were expecting, so we decided to put on a promotion for that night called the ‘Evviva snap iso mystery box’,” he said.

“I really have to thank the support we received from our loyal customers, both new and old, as we were absolutely smashed all night with takeaway and we were able to get rid of most of our stock which worked very much in our favour.”

Overall, he said the unpredictability of the lockdown announcements in recent times has made running a hospitality business very frustrating.

“To be honest nothing surprises me given what has happened over the past 18 months, so although it (the speed of the lockdown) was a surprise it wasn’t a surprise at the same time because everything is just so unpredictable at the moment and that is the frustrating part,” he said.

“If you look at the last lockdown, the day before there was zero cases and next thing we knew we were back again – I am just fortunate I am surrounded by positive people and we just take hold of what’s handed to us and try and make the most of it.”