'The grants are hopeless': Latest lockdown rules have hospitality industry weary, worried

Liam Thornycroft (pictured with Beppe's co-owner Samantha Mackley) has to decide if it's worth reopening his Daylesford ...
Liam Thornycroft (pictured with Beppe's co-owner Samantha Mackley) has to decide if it's worth reopening his Daylesford restaurant with all the restrictions and no federal government support. Photo: Richard Cornish

As Victoria's hospitality industry once again splits into Melbourne and regional, restaurant, cafe and pub owners are weary, stressed, angry and worried, though not exactly surprised.

"We have become a bit numb," says Mauro Callegari from Gembrook's The Independent. "We get another punch and we just have to take it." He wasn't shocked that the Melbourne lockdown was extended a week. "I was expecting it and I believe it is going to be another week on top of this," he says.

There's small comfort in the easing of the five kilometre travel rule to 10 kilometres. "Where we are on the edge of the city, it might help a little bit with increased takeaway business – this week has been very quiet," he says.

Staff are his biggest concern. "Over the past week I've given people shifts even when we didn't need them but how long can we sustain that?" he asks. "I am worried that they will go and get a job at Woolies – I am desperate to retain the ones we have."

He's demoralised by what he sees as government squabbling. "It's political games," he says. "Our state government says we need to lock down and the federal government says, suck it up, it's your problem. They're not looking at the big picture, the damage in our industry and every industry. It's very hard."

Jon de Fraga owns Richmond pubs The Kingston, Public House and Swan Hotel. "We are devastated, we are gutted," he says. "We were just starting to get back to normal in Richmond with footy crowds and confidence. It will take two or three months to build up momentum again. You can't just switch it back on." He's also concerned about losing key employees.

"We have become a bit numb. We get another punch and we just have to take it."

Mauro Callegari, The Independent

"Each lockdown we lose staff to other industries," he says. "People have families, how can they do it?" He's also looking for support beyond the state government grants of $7000 for licensed venues subjected to a two-week lockdown.

"The grants are hopeless," he says. "It cost me $150,000 last week to pay out stock and wages and loans with zero money coming in. They need to activate Jobkeeper again."

Richmond publican Jon de Fraga is devastated by the latest lockdown restrictions.

Richmond publican Jon de Fraga is looking for support beyond the state government grants. Photo: Supplied


Many Aboriginal-owned businesses have had to deal with the extra blow of losing Reconciliation Week activity for the second year in a row. The week of action and events coincided with the first week of this lockdown.

Yamatji/Noongar woman Sharon Brindley lost $20,000 worth of business with her Cooee Cafe and Catering on the Mornington Peninsula. "Until the extension, it was postpone, postpone, postpone but now it's gone, " she says. "We lost Sorry Day, we lost the Long Walk. It's a massive hit. How long can it go on?"

Regional restaurants will be allowed to open from Friday, pending testing and tracing results. Liam Thornycroft, owner of Cliffy's Emporium and Beppe's Kitchen and Bar in Daylesford, is busy making calculations.

"We have to decide whether it's worth reopening," he says. "If we are only allowed one person per four square metres inside and out, there's no way we can trade on a weekend. We would need eight staff to run a service for 21 people and it wouldn't be viable, especially as we need one staff member checking people in and doing postcode checks to make sure diners aren't coming up from Melbourne."

He's in two minds about whether the two-speed restrictions are good for regional Victoria. "In a way, I wish there was more federal support to help us stay closed," he says.