As owners of Ocean Ended, a beautiful waterside restaurant in Maroochydore on Queensland’s spectacular Sunshine Coast, we know a lot about the waves.
We’ve been through the cash flow ups and downs that every small business goes through. We have adjusted our course as tourists flood in and out again. We dove under the first pandemic wave in 2020, emerging stronger and more resilient after 11 weeks of lockdown, thanks to federal government cash-boosting and job retention programs, and increased government spending. optimistic customers.
And now our Prime Minister has told us to ride the Omicron wave, a catastrophic dumper created by state and federal governments that can’t be ridden by small business. We have closed our restaurant. Always.
My business partner, Paul Holmes, who opened the restaurant over six years ago, is a restaurateur with 40 years of experience. He’s transformed countless struggling restaurants for others, weathered recessions, and run his own successful restaurants. But he could not save this company. No one could have.
Our regulars came back en masse after the first confinement. They supported local businesses, including ours. We had our best winter trade since we opened. But the closing of the ‘Pineapple Curtain’ (the Queensland border), while popular with voters in the state, had the disastrous longer-term effect of vaccine hesitancy among the population. cloistered.
Post-employment lockdowns during the pandemic exposed the already high career insecurity in the hospitality industry, then supercharged it. Our small business has lost skilled and experienced chefs to mining, manufacturing, warehousing management and the food service industry, not other restaurants. They wanted to be able to pay their mortgages and keep their jobs during the shutdowns.
When our head chef left for personal reasons on September 12, we had to close our restaurant and let all our other employees leave because we couldn’t find a sufficiently experienced chef to replace him. By then we had already been looking for three months.
It took us another three months to find a fantastic chef and a second chef who played a central role in rebuilding our team. We nervously reopened on December 10.
During this search for a chef, there were a bunch of anti-vaxxers online when we replied “It’s the law” to a request asking if the chef should be vaccinated. We also received a surprising number of applications from people who had “cooked in a café for 12 months” and an unsurprising number of applications from chefs living abroad – outside our closed national borders.
We had used a welcome grant from the Queensland Government to fund the salary increase needed to secure these key members of staff and to partially restock the restaurant. Paul had worked with the chef to create a smaller menu to help manage costs. He felt that it would be necessary to absorb the rise in the price of fresh produce, especially meat and fish, over the past 12 months.
Spending per capita had dropped noticeably when we returned and although locals were thrilled the border was open, they were now nervous about catching Covid.
You have to have some luck when running a small business. Some people say you make your own luck. They may be right. But the moment of bad luck we had the night we reopened was the beginning of the end.
The kitchen exhaust fan motor seized up that first night, making the temperature in our kitchen about 50°C. We had already halved guest bookings to just 25 people to allow our new kitchen team to cope with working with a new menu in a new environment.
In a Christmas miracle, we found an excellent air conditioning mechanic who could diagnose the problem and replace the unit or repair the motor. Replacement would take until February due to international shipping delays (Covid) or he could retrofit a different unit by Christmas. We chose the latter.
Unfortunately the unit was caught up in trucking delays from Melbourne (Covid) and the new engine was seized eight minutes after it was fitted at the end of December, due to damage from poor packaging prior to transport (possibly not Covid).
Our leaders worked for three weeks in great discomfort.
The final nail in our coffin was hammered on January 7 when Prime Minister Annastacia Palaszczuk urged people to work from home if they could and avoid socializing for the next six weeks. Cancellations have exploded and reservations have exploded. You can’t run a restaurant in a ghost town.
When one of our employees was found to be in close contact with someone with Covid last Friday, we decided to decline the Federal Government’s offer to allow us to trade insolvent and closed our business at the figure of one-time $1 million business.
Fortunately, we are leaving debt free.
Our owner deserves a special mention. He rang we before the first lockdown in 2020 and offered us a two month rent holiday before any government offered small business support. And he worked with us to make our rent affordable throughout the pandemic. He was compassionate and generous throughout.
Poor planning and decisions dictated by government polls have defeated us. An economy – the real one you’ll find on high streets, malls and tourist towns – collapses when citizens are too scared to leave their homes and when small businesses across the country close.
Teresa Russell is a Sydney-based freelance writer and (rather) silent partner of Ocean Ended, a now closed Sunshine Coast restaurant. Always.