Opening a new cafe during the coronavirus pandemic might be riskier than carrying a takeaway coffee cup without a lid. Social distancing has caused the vast majority of dine-in venues to experience a major drop in revenue, and some industry experts predict up to 40 per cent of eateries will shutter in the next six months.
However, husband-and-wife team Andrew and Annie Schreurs have thrown caution to the wind and opened Tribe Coffee in the Blue Mountains. The Blaxland business sells lattes, piccolos, breakfast rolls and burgers, and is perhaps the only brand-new cafe in NSW.
"We were already looking to open a new store before the pandemic hit," says Andrew Schreurs, who also operates Euphoric Coffee at East Blaxland's shopping centre.
"When the lockdown was announced, we changed our business model plans to only provide takeaway and just went for it. The cafe opened in April just outside the local supermarket, so for the period when people were only leaving the house to buy groceries it was perfect."
An increase in turnover at Euphoric Coffee also meant Schreurs had the capital to invest in equipment for the new store sooner than expected.
"Business has improved by about 20 per cent at the original cafe over the past two months," he says. "We're in a very built up residential area and with everyone working from home, many people's daily routine involves going for a walk and grabbing a coffee."
Euphoric is not the only cafe in the state to experience an uptick in business as a result of the coronavirus crisis. Eugene Leung, co-owner of Kirribilli cafe Cool Mac, also says revenue has increased by 20 per cent due to local customers working from home.
"With reduced staff hours and faster turnover from takeaway sales, our profitability is greater too. I've certainly been thinking 'wouldn't it be interesting if this was purely a takeaway store?'. But since some restrictions have been lifted, it has also been rewarding to see customers sit down and enjoy coffee from a proper cup again."
However, Leung says the pandemic has had the opposite impact on trade at his Marrickville cafe, Kurumac.
"While Kirribilli has been doing great, business at Kurumac fell by 80 per cent. Marrickville is a vast suburb with a strong cafe game. Kurumac has only been there seven months, while a lot of other guys in the area are well established with loyal followings. It was a big relief to reopen with 10 customers allowed to dine in, that's for sure."
NSW cafes and restaurants will be allowed to seat up to 50 patrons from Monday, as part of the next step in relaxing the state's COVID-19 restrictions. However, the four-square metre rule for indoor gatherings means many small venues will still not be able to serve more than 10 people at a time. Cafes also face the challenge of accommodating takeaway coffee customers during service.
"Tribe is 40-square metres, so if I seat 10 people that means I can't have anyone come in for takeaway," says Schreurs. "I've limited capacity to six seats to allow for four people to walk in for takeaway coffee. Euphoric won't be able to seat anyone because it's just too small."
Trevor Simmons is the co-owner of Industry Beans in Sydney's CBD. He says the York Street cafe will not be able to increase its capacity under the four-square metre rule either, but "that's OK for now".
"The worst thing I can think of is going out for a meal and feeling uncomfortable. Cafes are meant to be places for coffee and a chinwag, not to feel awkward or unsafe."
To manage takeaway sales coming out of the coronavirus crisis, Simmons is encouraging all cafe owners to digitise their business as much as possible.
"We launched our Industry Beans mobile app 12 months ago to enable people to order coffee and pay ahead of arriving at the store," he says. "Downloads of the app have more than doubled in the past eight weeks. It's much better for everyone to have an order ready to go rather than telling a customer they need to wait on the street."