When New Zealand was given three days to prepare for Level 4 lockdown in March of last year, Ted Waters – the co-owner of local cafes and restaurants The Apothecary, Daisy Chang and Piggy Bar – thought the businesses were finished.
“Covid was like Armageddon,” he says. “It was frightening.”
He credits their survival to the wage subsidy. “It doesn’t cover everything,” Ted says. “But it kept us from falling under.”
“We tried to distribute it as fairly as possible.”
They were able to open for takeaways during Level 3.
However, Ted says, that was only about 20 per cent of their regular profits.
“It was all we could do.”
While the New Zealand hospitality sector was given three days notice last year, Ted and the staff had six hours in this current lockdown.
Additionally, with the Government announcing one-week extensions with no guarantees of established time periods, businesses have less time to plan.
“Last year we knew the lockdown would be a month,” Ted says. “We had more time. It’s difficult to plan with seven-day notices.”
“We’re more experienced as we’ve repeatedly been through lockdowns, but we have less time.”
One positive with the lockdowns last year was that the cafes launched their popular pies. “It took off,” he says.
Along with the success of their pies, Ted says that opening for takeaways made it easier to prepare for customers.
“Lots of people come in for a takeaway coffee or pie. It’s become more effective.”
During July 2020, Daisy Chang implemented innovative tent-type dividers between its booth seating.
And for their creative idea, which received media coverage, they won a European fine dining Covid award.
Another difficulty of lockdown has been the cutting off of customers’ interactions with staff. “The cafes are great for social interaction,” he says. “That’s lost for some of our regulars who rely on it.”
Additionally, due to the border closure, this has caused issues with employment. “The hospitability sector relies on immigration,” Ted says, “and people from overseas add a lot of flavour and bring something fresh.”
The cafe’s chefs are getting creative this lockdown. Ted told the Times that they’re doing online cook-offs to develop more dishes.
Interestingly, Ted says, their local events – such as comedy nights – sell out quickly post-lockdown. “People can’t go overseas,” he says. “They’re looking for more things to do.”
A new global study showed that New Zealand small business had the most positive outlook during Covid-19. This is due, the study says, to the support from their communities.
“The community support has been great,” Ted says. “We’re a tight village.”
For the future, the Howick trio of eateries have numerous events planned for around Christmas – such as comedy nights and a function at the Bentley House at Macleans College.
“We want to hit the ground running,” Ted says.