Food News

“It feels more real. It feels closer to home”: for the South Australian hospitality industry, this lockdown carries a different kind of shock

“It all needs to happen, but that doesn’t make it any easier."

Farida Ayubi at Adelaide's Parwana Afghan Kitchen.

Josie Withers (main)

Excess produce, cancelled bookings, papered-up shop windows. For many restaurant owners in South Australia, this was the frenzy of activity that happened in the hours between Premier Steven Marshall’s afternoon press conference that announced the statewide six-day lockdown, and the looming midnight deadline when the changes came into effect.

“I was expecting a lockdown if I’m honest. But it was [still] unplan-for-able,” says Daisy Miller, co-owner of Soi 38 in the Adelaide CBD.

All signs were pointing to the L-word. Just on Tuesday, tighter restrictions for the hospitality industry were reimposed. The four square-metre rule returned, up from the two square-metre rule in place since late June, and bar and pub patrons partaking in “vertical consumption” were told to sit down as cases of community transmission crept up.

At Soi 38 on Wednesday, Miller, her husband restaurant co-owner Terry Intarakhamhaeng, and staff were busy papering up the windows to their glass-fronted restaurant and salvaging their fresh produce. Slow-cooked beef for the massaman curry was frozen, herbs blitzed into curry pastes, vegetables distributed among staff to take home. “We had lots of oysters delivered on Monday … luckily my son’s a big fan, so he had a dozen to himself last night,” says Miller. “He’s five.”

The empty dining room at Adelaide’s Soi 38.

(Photo: Andrea Jacob)

“It feels more real”

But compared to March, this lockdown carries a different type of shock. “It feels more real. It feels closer to home,” says Durkhanai Ayubi of Parwana Afghan Kitchen in Torrensville. “Things in South Australia felt like they were getting back to normal. It was such a clawback for many people in the industry, and it’s come to this grinding halt.”

Then there’s the operational differences. Restaurant takeaway and delivery were permitted in the nationwide shutdown in March and in Melbourne’s 112-day lockdown, but they’re banned for the next six days in South Australia.

Some wish takeaway could happen, if only to soften the blow for produce suppliers. “There’s the upstream impact [of lockdown] for small producers who don’t supply to supermarkets,” says Miller. “A six-day pause will be difficult for them to manage.”

But others in the industry are relieved by the rule. A Woodville pizza shop has been identified as a source of COVID-19 transmission, and health authorities say all customers – dine-in, as well as those who received takeaway and delivery – who ordered from the restaurant from November 6 to 16 must get tested for the virus and self-quarantine. The stakes for takeaway and delivery now seem higher for both staff and customers. “I would not want us or our staff infecting anyone, nor do I want my staff to be sick because we’ve been exposed,” says Ayubi.

Parwana Afghan Kitchen’s Farida Ayubi, Zelmai Ayubi and Durkhanai Ayubi.

(Photo: Sia Duff)

In the Barossa Valley, restaurant El Estanco did not offer takeaway in the March shutdown, and co-owner Abby Osborne is relieved a blanket decision has been made this time around. Osborne, her husband restaurant co-owner Julian Velasquez, and their three-year-old daughter live on the same property as Osborne’s parents, both who are immuno-compromised.

“[Takeaway] wouldn’t even cover the costs of opening the front door,” she says. “And I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I gave them [COVID-19].”

She’s also been worried about growing complacency in regional South Australia. At El Estanco, she says staff have been abused when they’ve asked customers to sign in before entering the premises.

“I grew up in England, Julian is from Colombia and we have a chef from Colombia too. We’ve all had friends and families die [from coronavirus],” says Osborne. “Do I have to turn around to customers and explain this to them?”

El Estanco in Greenock, Barossa Valley.

(Photo: Melissa Brown)

Bottle shops are open, but it’s bittersweet for one business owner

It took a few hours after the Premier’s press conference to answer the question on many South Australians’ lips: yes, bottle shops will remain open. But it took until this morning for Olivia Moore to confirm LOC Bottle Shop, her online wine-delivery service, could continue to operate.

“That was the biggest concern. You lose so much in the period when you’re not trading,” she says. “And people get thirsty. No-one wants to be left without wine.”

The news is bittersweet. Moore was due to launch her natural-wine bar this week. The furniture was delivered to the CBD premises 30 minutes before yesterday’s press conference; the new bar stools are sitting, still wrapped in plastic, in the to-be-opened business.

“The bar was a dream for longer than the [online shop],” says Moore. “It looked like we were in such a good situation in South Australia that I didn’t really think twice about it, so when I was this close to the actual opening it was all very exciting. The timing is,” – she lets out a long sigh – “very unfortunate.”

Olivia Moore outside Adelaide’s LOC Bottle Bar. The natural-wine bar was due to open this week.

(Photo: Supplied)

A longer lockdown?

Some in the industry look to Victoria’s situation, and speculate a longer lockdown is on the cards. “In my heart, I don’t think it’s going to be six days,” says Osborne.

Moore agrees. “I’m unsure if it’s going to be six days or six weeks,” she says.

It’s too early to predict, but there is some good news for South Australia. Today, the state recorded no new coronavirus cases after a record 20,000 people were tested in the past 48 hours.

“What we’ve all had to come to terms with is that uncertainty is a global reality right now, and adaptability and responding to the immediate situation comes first,” says Ayubi. “Resilience comes later.”

She has her eyes set on the future of her restaurants, and the industry as a whole. “You have to take on the advice that’s been given in good faith, and really prioritise health and safety. I don’t think it’s inseparable from prioritising our long-term economy, and our sustainability as an industry, and a state, and a country.”

Osborne recently unveiled the new El Estanco, built from the ground up, and located across the road from its predecessor. She recognises the importance of public health policy in the face of a pandemic, but the emotional toll of shutting down her business, and her passion, is undeniable.

“It all needs to happen, but that doesn’t make it any easier,” says Osborne. “I know we’ll be fine, I know we’ll come back great.” She pauses. “It just sucks.”

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