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Melbourne’s bar owners call on industry to unite and support each other

Zara Madrusan, Director of Made in the Shade, which owns The Everleigh, Heartbreaker, Bar Margaux and Connie’s Pizza, has called on suppliers, trade and consumers to help venues get through the huge impact of a second closure.

“To the industry, it’s OK to express your hurt right now,” Madrusan told Bars and Clubs.

“’Stay strong’, sure, but it’s also OK to be angry, to grieve. As an industry I think we need to do what we can to unite, seek support from peers and talk about the challenges and how to best navigate.”

Explaining what the group will do during this lockdown, Madrusan told Bars and Clubs: “This time round it will be a mix of [take-away, delivery and closing venues].

She added: “We learnt a lot from the first lockdown. We pivoted quickly into delivery models across the group to survive. Some methods made sense and offerings allowed us to cover the cost investment, some stretched us too far. With a reduced team, we were very hands on and it left us absolutely exhausted.

“We will streamline the delivery offering this time around, sticking to what was most successful so this is easier to manage for the next six weeks. At this stage, that looks like the pre-order, cook-at-home ‘A La Maison’ offering from Bar Margaux and Freshly Shaken cocktails from The Everleigh, with delivery by our team to Melbourne Metro.

“The Everleigh Bottling Co. will continue to distribute nationwide, and we’re excited to be launching a Cocktail Club bottled cocktail subscription service also.

SHOW YOUR SUPPORT

But she emphasised that every venue must do what is right for them.

“If delivery isn’t the right thing for your business, don’t do it,” Marusan said. “You know what’s right for your business better than anyone else does, and what’s right for the neighbouring bar isn’t necessarily the same for you.

“Be open and honest with your staff about what’s going on and how you anticipate the business will be affected.”

In terms of what we can all do to help, Madrusan told Bars and Clubs: “To consumers and trade nationally, show your support. Put your money where your mouth is, where you can.

“Gift friends bottled cocktails, order delivery from your local restaurants, purchase gift vouchers as an investment in our livelihood that you can enjoy on the other side.

“Follow, like, share words of support. It means more than you know.”

The impact of a second closure just weeks after many venues went through the expense of re-opening following the first nationwide lockdown cannot be underestimated. Venues will have reordered stock and generally geared cashflow towards longer opening times, and while understanding times will also be difficult for suppliers, Madrusan called for patience.

“The supply chain that was just starting to move again has been frozen, and every step on the ladder is affected. I know I speak for every venue when I say we need patience and understanding from suppliers right now.

“Don’t be quick to disrespect or disregard what have previously been such positive working relationships. Understand we are working at such a limited capacity, and we’re doing our best in a dire situation. We have to work together.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by Adams Betts, Co-Owner of Bonny Bar, who agreed suppliers and operators need to work together to get through this tough time.

BE OPEN AND HONEST

“Suppliers will need to be understanding and possibly extend terms of open invoices for affected venues. Any unopened bottles, untapped kegs etc they are willing to take back [would help]. Baring in mind that suppliers will also be doing it tough, I believe the key is communication both ways, so they know where they stand, when they can expect their bills to be paid and plan accordingly,” Betts told Bars and Clubs.

“Shying away or avoiding suppliers if you’re unable to pay their invoices on-time is usually going to escalate and make your situation worse. It is best to be honest with them and open up dialogue on when you’re expecting to be able to make payments.

“In return you might find they support you further now and in the future with initiatives.”

As well as trade, industry and consumers, both Madrusan and Betts, plus Brooke Hayman, Director at Whisky & Alement, had a unified call to the Government.

“JobKeeper needs to be extended beyond the end of September at the very least,” said Madrusan.

“JobKeeper will need to be extended for effected businesses until all restrictions are lifted,” said Betts, and “We’d like to see JobKeeper continue beyond September,” was what Hayman had to say.

She added: [We’d like to see] grants to cover unavoidable expenses. If we can cover costs during this period we will have the strength to re-emerge on the other side, both mentally and financially.”

TARGETED SUPPORT

Madrusan agrees that the hospitality industry in particular will need Government support to make it through this crisis.

“I hope to see more targeted support for the industries most affected, and longer term plans to aid the industry in getting back on their feet, given the implications of extended delays,” she said.

To put that request for help into perspective, Madrusan told Bars and Clubs how difficult this second lockdown will be, even for a successful and well-run group like Made in the Shade.

“It’s hard to say what long term damage we will face following another substantial period of closure.

“The challenges are mounting, debts are rising. Many of our overheads remain as they did during the first closure, and we don’t yet have any commitment of additional or extended government funding or support.”

Madrusan is taking part in a panel discussion during Road to Recovery hospitality webinar, taking place on Wednesday, 15 July. The free webinar will offer advice for venue operators on repositioning and recovery strategies through a series of Q&As and panel discussions.

Register for the Road to Recovery hospitality webinar here.

The Victorian Government is offering one-off $5000 grants under its Business Support Fund to eligible businesses within the metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire areas, including bars.

There are a number of criteria regarding eligible businesses and how the funding can be used. To find out more and to see if you qualify head to the Victorian Government’s Business Support website.

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