Adelaide hospitality workers and their stories: COVID-19 Lockdown

Aaron Formosa Adelaide Hospitality Worker

Most of our closest friends in Adelaide are hospitality workers. They are some of the hardest workers we know. Unfortunately, they’re also among the first to feel the blow of our current economic crisis due to the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. We’ve been following their trials and tribulations through the eyes of social media. Our newsfeeds fill with dialogues of unemployment and uncertainty. What’s happening to the world? What’s happened to my job? When will I return to work? How will I support myself financially?

In fact, seeing all of this on social media inspired me to write the article in the first place. And what really took me by surprise when conducting interviews with Adelaide hospitality workers, was the rate at which my questions were answered and the level of detail in the answers themselves. Having conducted many interviews in my time, I’ve never received such in-depth, passionate responses in such a short timeframe. Hell, I even received an essay-type document fashioned into a 500-word analysis at 12:30 midnight (I’m looking at you, Mills). What started off as a cute blog post idea ended up evolving into a fully-fledged piece of journalistic gold. Well, I think anyway.

This almost speaks louder than the words themselves. Immediate and meticulous responses prove to me just how much our Adelaide hospitality workers want to be heard. It seems as though they want their stories told. Perhaps they even crave purpose in a time where they’ve been stripped clean of it. Nonetheless, this piece reveals just a mere portion of the turmoil our world is experiencing right now.

Aaron Formosa, Contracted Sales Agent at Man of Spirit and Connect Vines

  • Aaron Formosa Adelaide hospitality workers and their stories: COVID-19 Lockdown
  • Aaron Formosa Adelaide Hospitality Worker
  • Aaron Formosa Adelaide Hospitality Worker

Aaron Formosa, an alcohol sales and distribution representative, uploaded the Instagram post that served as the inspiration for this written piece. His first post presented a dedicated hospitality picture reel with the caption: “To the years gone, the late nights, the early mornings, the tears, the laughs and the mavericks I am in your debt”.

The second few posts were more of his personal memory reels, captioned “Faces of Adelaide Hospo”. They show happy, smiling faces behind the bar, and plenty of alcohol-fuelled shenanigans. The posts were received well by the local hospitality community, inspiring comments like: “You’re a natural hospitality angel. Thank you for the laughs,” and; “This series is making me emotional.”

When questioned about his posts, Aaron answered: “The idea behind ‘The Faces of Adelaide Hospo’ was simply to remind the people in the pictures of moments they have been apart of because of the industry. Hopefully to bring a smile to their face in a time where smiles are few and far between.”

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Faces of Adelaide Hospo.

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Aaron also politely asked me to stress the fact that the hospitality crowd are among the hardest of workers, as I would personally know having been a part of the industry once myself.

“As you know, we pull 16-hour days and serve up drinks for people on the weekend,” he continues, “now that we are out of work, a lot of people will be in serious financial distress. Bartenders and employers, chefs and hotel staff.”

“It’s so much more than just pouring drinks. We are pouring moments.”

Courtney Price, Bar Manager at Africola

Courtney Price, who was actually enjoying a drink or three while writing the answers to her interview questions, somehow miraculously maintained a very eloquent response. That’s some talent you have there, Court.

The bar manager at Africola shines light on the positives of the current moment. She says: “I’m currently on day 3 of practicing social distancing so I’m almost treating this time as a long weekend. Ask me again in a week or two how I’m going and I’m sure my response will be very different.”

“Right now, I’m doing a lot of simple things that, given my usual schedule, I don’t usually have the time for. I’m cooking a fair bit, I’ve had a day solely focused on cleaning (both rarities for me), and like everyone else I’m drinking a lot more than I should be. I’m living my best housewife life.”

Courtney also touches on how she plans to support other Adelaide hospitality workers while in self-isolation. “Trying to do my part during this sh*tstorm is difficult because I want to help where I can, but also my finances are limited until Centrelink payments come through,” she continues, “In the meantime, I’m trying to order from my favourite and smaller businesses—Parwana Afghan Kitchen, Sunny’s Pizza, Hills Collide and Son of Dot Drinks, while also trying to purchase groceries from our local markets rather than big store chains.”

  • Adelaide Hospitality Workers Courtney Price and Nick Corletto
  • Courtney Price and Nick Corletto, Adelaide Hospitality Workers

Courtney and her partner, Nick Corletto, share one massive thing in common: their commitment to Adelaide’s hospitality scene. Both hard workers in the industry, they now find themselves void of a job to work hard for.

“Nick and I are both currently separately self-isolating. We’ve both been stood down with our jobs, we both live with family, and the cross-contamination seems selfish.”

Courtney continues to radiate positivity. “Nick and I are both introverts at heart, so we really value our alone time. He listens to my ramblings about whatever show I’m currently watching, he sends me bad memes, and we understand wanting to see each other comes so far behind a global pandemic.”

“It’s everyone’s job to do their part, no matter how small it seems.”

Nick Corletto, Venue Manager at Maybe Mae

When asked the same questions, Maybe Mae’s venue manager Nick Corletto rode the same positive waves as that of his partner Courtney.

“When you can’t be together all the time, (you) spend that period of separation making yourself happy,” Nick explains, “keeping your mental state positive in all this mess will help you be a better partner for your other half.”

It seems as though he and Courtney really are quite the suited match, as his answers carried a comparable buoyant tone. “My time and energy at the moment are mostly spent on things I’d typically be trying to do in my downtime outside of work.”

Nick continues: “Additionally, I’m very much using this opportunity to read, learn, and up-skill myself in hospitality during this downtime. Downtime is for recreation, but also for education.”

Charlie Brooks, Barista at Elementary and Bartender at Bibliotheca

Photo by Josh Geelen

An Adelaide barista and bartender, Charlie Brooks, found himself moving back home with his family in a bid to conserve funds.

“Moving back was the most logical step for me to do,” explains Charlie, “I know many people who don’t have a family to go to and I feel genuinely grateful that I have this place.”

He shares his self-isolation routine: “My day rotates around drinking coffee and tea, exercise, reading and writing,” he adds, “I think it helps to distil everything you ‘need’ when you think about your days; something for the body, something for the heart, something for the mind.”

Moving back (home with my family) was the most logical step for me to do. I know many people who don’t have a family to go to and I feel genuinely grateful that I have this place.

– Charlie Brooks

Millie Hopkins, Bartender at Udaberri

Udaberri‘s Millie Hopkins was our aforementioned analysis-bestower who brought up some interesting insights relating to the nature of the hospitality industry and its endurance.

“The slap in the face about hospitality is that it’s an industry with a relatively transient nature to it. Colleagues, bosses, regular patrons and jobs come and go, but there’s always been this now-false lull of security that, regardless of whatever climate the world might be going through, the bar and club scene will always be fixed with permanency.”

“During the GFC, people were still going out. Drinking and socialising was a temporary escape from the harsh reality of what was orbiting around the economy at that point in time,” Millie continues, “in this instance, we are fighting against an invisible biohazardous nemesis (coronavirus, if you will) that has completely cut out the ability to even interact with people.”

Watching an industry like hospitality topple overnight

Millie continued to tell us how she felt about having to leave her job and her fellow Adelaide hospitality workers. “Watching an industry like hospitality topple overnight could perhaps be likened to moving through the phases of grief: denial, bargaining, depression, anger and acceptance.”

“I felt a dull weight in my chest and lump in my throat driving home from Udaberri last week after helping pack down the venue for the foreseeable future. I am incredibly fortunate to work under two wonderful owners there, Rob Dinnen and Ben Walsh, alongside a myriad of co-workers who are like the second family I never realised I needed.”

Offering her predictions on how she thinks the future of Adelaide’s hospitality scene will play out, Millie relays a balanced view. Her forecast is equally as positive as it is negative.

“I think there will be a lot of venues across the board whose doors won’t reopen after this, which is a hard pill to swallow,” says Millie, “little old Adelaide had finally managed to put itself on the map and was coming out of its shell where ‘nothing happens’, and it almost feels like overnight that years of building up to that point has suddenly gone.”

“Mark my words though – we’ll be back. This will completely innovate and reshape the industry as we know it from hereon.”

I think there will be a lot of venues across the board whose doors won’t reopen after this, which is a hard pill to swallow. Mark my words though – we’ll be back. This will completely innovate and reshape the industry as we know it from hereon.

Millie Hopkins

Jamie Huffam, Venue Manager at The Stag and Co-Founder of Big Easy Drinks

As many of you would know, beloved East End pub The Stag underwent a massive rebranding mid-2018. With their rebrand in full swing and the business really starting to pick up, it’s come as a pretty disheartening blow that they’ve had to shut doors indefinitely.

Jamie says: “After the closures, thousands of dollars worth of stock was lost, we had to cancel functions and, worst of all, the incredible team we’d built are now no longer employed. This is obviously financially devastating but also emotionally, as the venue was starting to really hit its strides.”

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Jamie and his team of Adelaide hospitality workers have come together to launch an exciting new venture, moulded to suit our current economic climate.

“Our plans to move ahead have begun with the launch of Big Easy Drinks,” says Jamie, “Using our takeaway license, we have set up an online bottle shop so that we can continue to support our incredible suppliers and local booze producers.”

“The goal is to build the bottle shop up to a point where we can re-employ our staff as delivery drivers, stock packers, working comms etc. We’re doing our best to support the hospitality industry in its time of need.”

“Plus, this way, people get delicious booze delivered to their door.”

Sean Howard, Venue Manager at Cry Baby Bar

Around the same time as The Stag’s rebrand, another awesome hospitality enterprise popped up for the people of Adelaide. The effortlessly cool new dive bar, Cry Baby, opened its doors on Solomon Street mid-2018. It has seen booming success ever since. Being one of Adelaide’s most talked-about new bars, we spoke to venue manager Sean Howard about the COVID-19 closures and what it meant for Cry Baby.

“Obviously this is a blow to everyone, so it’s important not to get caught up in our own sorrow,” says Sean, “we just need to try and find ways to adapt.”

“For us, the really hard-hitting aspect that is directly affecting us is having to indefinitely lay off staff until we can open the doors again. Seeing our crew who have helped us develop the brand go without, and that there is nothing we can do to avoid the situation, hurts more than anything else we are dealing with.”

Sean remains confident Cry Baby and his team of Adelaide hospitality workers will pull through. “In all honesty, whilst we know that this is a big hit, we are confident that we can pull through the hibernation period and redevelop the venue to its strength at closure pretty quickly. Being a super young business makes us far more malleable to adaption. I can’t imagine how some of the larger groups are trying to tackle this.”

  • Cry Baby Adelaide hospitality workers and their stories: COVID-19 Lockdown
  • Adelaide hospitality workers and their stories: COVID-19 Lockdown
  • Adelaide Hospitality Workers at Cry Baby Bar Adelaide

Adapting to a new way of hospitality

And in the meantime, while they wait for the crisis to blow over, the Cry Baby team are adopting new tactics to suit the current circumstances. “Jon (owner), Matt (assistant manager) and I have been working around the clock to get our website up and running, where we have been announcing new online merch and liquor sales. So far it has only been up for a few days, but has been keeping us heavily on our toes.”

Just like Jamie and his team from The Stag, Cry Baby are hopping on board the delivery wagon. Sean says: “We are doing personal booze drop-offs ourselves to fill the remainder of our day, bringing Cry Baby to the door of our customers.”

The silver lining from all of this is that we are getting to explore elements of the industry we have considered dabbling in. Consider it a trial period for new sectors of what we may potentially move towards.

Sean Howard

He continues to explain how the team plan on keeping the Cry Baby brand alive. “It’s important to stay in the rhythm of the business and keep the name relevant where possible. Spending our afternoons at the bar cranking the jukebox while packing the orders and driving around dropping off booze deliveries keeps us in the headspace of Cry Baby.”

“The silver lining from all of this is that we are getting to explore elements of the industry we have considered dabbling in, but never made time to put on the drawing board,” continues Sean, “consider it a trial period for new sectors of what we may potentially move towards.”

And just like the rest of us, the Cry Baby team are already anticipating their post-quarantine celebrations. There’s no doubt Adelaide hospitality workers are gearing up for a big one. “We’re pretty damn excited about a welcome back party too. We’re expecting the whole world to throw it’s biggest party to date once we can all open the doors again.”

“Sending our love to the hospo industry and the rest of the world. Here’s to swift turnaround on the other end.”

Annie Tran, Owner of Gondola Gondola

Annie Tran is the owner of Peel Street’s Gondola Gondolaa personal favourite of ours – and also a new mother of two. Now with a family to support, we asked Annie how she felt about closing the doors to her restaurant.

“It is pretty sad to close, however I feel it’s the best thing to do right now,” says Annie, “and for Gondola Gondola, take away is just not worth it. We tried for a couple of weeks and the cost of staffing, electricity and gas is just too much for us to keep doing that.”

“Plus, I also worry about the safety of my staff and their families,” continues Annie, “putting whatever the media says aside, there are more cases each day confirmed. I just don’t feel comfortable to stay open. Tuoi (Annie’s husband) and I will do whatever we can to support them.”

“After this whole thing is over, we will be back and each of our staff will have their job back guaranteed.”

Annie tells us how she plans on spending this time with her family. “I am taking this as an opportunity for Tuoi and I to have a break and to spend all the time with our family and our boys.”

When asked about government support, Annie seemed satisfied with the coronavirus relief efforts. She says: “I do think the government is trying to help all of us as much as they can! It takes time, I haven’t even tried to call Centrelink yet because I can only imagine how busy they are, so I think I will wait for a couple of weeks before I call them.”

“Business-wise, the government has already announced some business relief packages, for example, the tax reduction. It will be very helpful to us for sure.”

Image sources: Bank Street Social, interviewee’s social pages, Josh Geelen

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