Restaurateurs grapple with new reality in face of crisis

Lucio Galletto, pictured at his restaurant Lucio's in 2012, has seen his fair share of tough times.
Lucio Galletto, pictured at his restaurant Lucio's in 2012, has seen his fair share of tough times. Photo: Quentin Jones

Lucio Galletto says the restaurant industry is in the darkest hour of his long career. And the restaurateur has seen his share of recessions, health scares and hurdles since he started work in restaurants as an 11-year-old in Italy in 1964, and opened Sydney stalwart Lucio's in Paddington in 1983.

"It's like the stories my parents told me about the war [WWII]," he says.

Like many restaurants, Lucio's is pressing on with takeaway meals, but across the city on Monday heartbreaking scenes were unfolding as restaurants closed, some destined never to reopen.

There is the restaurateur, who asked not to be named, where part-time staff have been let go in recent weeks as diner numbers faded. Concerned for the many staff who live pay day to pay day, she is worried with the restaurant closed whether she can follow through on a promise to departed workers that they are welcome any time for staff meals.

Restaurateurs are bewildered, blindsided and looking for answers that in many cases just aren't there. In a crisis the restaurant industry is usually the first to respond with a charity dinner or fundraiser. But they ask who'll be there for them?

"For the first time in my 35-year hospitality career I have been forced into a world of uncertainty," restaurateur Maurice Terzini posted candidly when announcing the temporary closure of Icebergs Dining Room and Bar at Bondi Beach. 

Terzini added the closure is his social responsibility to his staff, clients and community.

Despite his experience, Galletto says he has been blindsided by events. "I'm a bit of a dreamer, I thought we are an island and we'll be OK. I didn't think it'd go like this, I'm being woken up."

Yesterday afternoon, the Solotel group, owner of Aria, Chiswick and Opera Bar among other high profile venues, announced their temporary closure.

Bruce Solomon, founder of Solotel Group says: "The Solomon family has proudly been a part of Australia's hospitality industry for more than a 100 years. We are devastated by what has happened to hospitality and the wonderful people who work within our industry. It is the people we have had the privilege of working with that has made my time in the industry so fulfilling. I feel for our staff, their families and everyone in the industry. Elliot, Anna and I want to say thank you and we hope we will be able to rebuild a stronger Solotel in the future".

Matt Moran, co-owner of the Matt Moran branded restaurants, said: "In my 36 years in the industry, there have been many ups and downs but this breaks my heart. As a community, we must be brave, be kind, stay positive and support. We will get through this and will come back stronger when we re-open."