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New cafe owners optimistic in face of crisis


As restrictions begin to ease and businesses assess reopening their doors, three Adelaide eateries tell InDaily why they chose to make a bold decision and open new cafes during a nationwide lockdown.

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When French patisserie Mascavado launched in Hutt Street the week before Easter, South Australia was experiencing a peak in new cases of coronavirus.

In the weeks leading up to the opening the pastry cafe owner, Lea Chairesa, was warned by friends that the pandemic would affect business – and she was urged to reconsider retiming the launch.

But examining how the coronavirus was unfolding abroad and comparing it the South Australian government’s response,  Chairesa felt confident her business model, designed around takeaways, could work despite restrictions.

“Because we’re in Adelaide, we’re still able to do takeaways … and that suits my concept. I’m only doing what’s available at the counter, there’s no eat-in menu,” Chairesa said.

“And where I’m situated there’s a lot of residential areas as well. And since people are working from home, I thought they will eventually need to get out of the house for a coffee or even just for that five minute walk as a break to get out of the house for their exercise.”

Situated in an old Commonwealth Bank in the city, with residential living near-by, Chairesa reckoned the increase of people working from home could work in her favour.

She said she thought the location, combined with take-away products and limited competitors would allow the business to develop a regular customer base, which could work in her favour into the future.

But she said response to the project, which was a year in the making, had far exceeded her expectations.

“When I opened I thought, ‘there’s no way we’re going to have that many people coming in. But we kept selling out really early’,” she said.

“Customers tell us … ‘it’s a very bad time to open.’ But we keep telling them, ‘you’re here and no one else is open’.

“It has ended up being better than I expected. There’s so much support.”

Like Mascavado, Prospect-based Frankly Bagels’s business model was built on takeaways.

However, unlike the French bakery, bagel store owners Christie Wilkinson, Jack Crichton and James Donnelly were initially deterred by the prospect of opening as the crisis accelerated.

The owners planned to launch in March but when the time came, they chose instead to halt the project, bide their time and watch events unfold while they worked out their next move.

“We got the keys to our shop in December last year and we started doing our fit-out … we had pretty much finished our fit-out and were ready to open in early March, just as everything was about to close down,” Wilkinson said.

“We had done pretty much everything to get ready to open, which meant that our overheads were all in place. So when all of the restrictions started happening with COVID-19 we were so concerned with how long we could maintain our overheads for.

“We thought if there’s a complete shut down we should just push pause on everything. And that’s what we did for a couple of weeks.”

Watching other businesses successfully pivot to a takeaway model, Wilkinson said the owners decided to take a punt and open the shop in May.

“Takeaway was always part of our business model … the idea was that you send people out with their food and their coffee and they enjoy the open spaces, so it was actually very fortuitous that the takeaway model was left in for the restrictions and we could do it that way,” Wilkinson said.

One of 10 bagels on offer at Frankly Bagels. Image: Andy Nowell

In the two weeks since opening, Wilkinson said the eatery had received a steady stream of customers.

“We’re so glad that people are enthusiastic, but we’re also aware that we’re not out of the woods with restrictions yet. So we want to make sure people are still being safe,” Wilkinson said.

“That’s probably been the hardest thing during our open. It’s not that we’re not getting customer, it’s that we’re getting maybe too many customers.”

Wilkinson said the cafe had set up signage to remind people of the limitations in a bid to ensure customers kept social distancing.

Meanwhile, Hello Sarnie co-owner Andrew Pearce told InDaily the business was preparing to begin the fit-out of its new sandwich shop at 11 Waymouth Street, with a mind to being ready to open within the next couple of months.

“In two weeks we start the shop-fit and then it’ll be ready in six to eight weeks. By then we’ll be in a better position as a State to see where we all are in journey of coming out of COVID-19,” Pearce said.

“We want to be sure we’re not behind the eight-ball when things do return to former normality, and I use that phrase loosely.

“We don’t want to go: ‘Oh we better start the shopfit, everyone is getting back to work’.”

Last week, the State Government announced it would allow outdoor dining at restaurants and cafes for groups of up to 10 people, with table service to be introduced in June.

But Pearce said the announcement was not a deciding factor in continuing with the development; rather, the decision was made in the early stages of COVID-19 restrictions.

“It wasn’t a decision I made solely. My business partner and I and the key stake holders in the business discussed it, spoke about it and slept on it,” Pearce said.

“We looked at all of the evidence … and thought we would come out of this, from a Hello Sarnie standpoint, stronger and so we thought it was a good decision to move forwards.

“We’ve still got a lot to offer in Adelaide and so that was the decision we made. It might not be the right one, we’ll see!”

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