Falling in love during lockdown

At 12pm on Monday 23rd March we closed our doors for Lockdown One. What an absolute shit storm, pardon the language but it’s the only word that fits!

I didn’t cope very well. Tears were working overtime that day, with every kind word and every hug from my team, they would dance their way down my cheeks. My mind was numb, I couldn’t think properly and I found it very overwhelming. We tried to sit down and talk about takeaway and menu ideas etc, but I wasn’t in the right frame of mind. Instead I closed the doors and gifted myself a few days to digest what was happening. I’ll be honest and say I went straight for the wine, tracksuit and comforts of home with those bloody tears in tow the entire time.

It was the best thing I could have done. We reflected and we digested our new norm. We didn’t know how long this would last or how it would impact the business financially but we did know that we needed some time to think it all through. We didn’t want to react without clarity and purpose.

It was during this time that I fell totally in love with my business all over again. I felt compelled to protect her, to be her ambassador and to ensure that she reopened with purpose to do what she does best. There was no way I was going to let this lockdown ruin a business we had built up, over seven years, at least not without a fight. I whipped off the tracksuit, put the wine away and went about the planning for a reopening.

The first and most important matter at hand was our team. We invited them all in to the venue to take home produce that we knew we couldn’t sell. Rather than waste the food we gave it away. This was a humbling experience and fuelled us to reopen with purpose and get them back to work.

A lifeline was thrown by the federal government in the guise of JobKeeper. A wage subsidy that would allow us to bring our team back with the Government absorbing a portion of this significant cost. Everyone who was eligible, about 70% of our team, were called and without hesitation were confirmed to return to work.

Within a few days we busied ourselves with menu planning, redesigning the venue for takeaway and getting the business online. We worked furiously and with intent. We were almost ready to go but we needed a strong message. The experience of giving away the food to our staff was the catalyst to do something more. To give back somehow and to continue to spread the joy of giving. We needed to bottle that zeal and create a positive narrative that reflected our brand.

The Grow to Give program was born. Our proudest achievement during lockdown one. The program would go for as long as lockdown one did. We asked our community to donate money and to nominate people in the community to receive a free meal. We also asked people to self-nominate if they needed kindness during this awful time. We didn’t run this for profit. We used the donations to purchase food and we donated our time, resources and abilities to deliver this food to those in need in our community. We raised over $6000 and managed to feed over 200 people. We partnered with the local RSL and hospitals and delivered food to frontline workers, the elderly and most vulnerable, and families who were doing it very tough. This program not only helped feed people in need, but it offered our team and our customers the chance to really contribute to our community in a positive way.

Likewise we used our time to focus on improving business efficiencies. Revenue was down significantly due to operating for takeaway only, so we had time on our hands. We invested that time into systems that would help us reduce costs long term so we could reopen after lockdown with more sustainable systems in place. We reviewed our costs and outgoings and made changes to get better return for our spend. We worked on strategy and business purpose and our point of difference. While our venue was not as busy as pre COVID, we certainly were busy working on making positive changes while not being stuck in the day to day.

It certainly wasn’t all rosy. The emotional roller coaster of what we were navigating was still very much at play. The uncertainty of the future, the questions of survival and the loss of income was still very real.  We tried as best as we could to focus on the things we could control and we never succumbed to the idea of giving up. To motivate yourself and your team every day during a lockdown is exhausting but not impossible. Tenacity and strength of purpose is what pulled us through. Our team were, and still are, fantastic. Their ability to adapt and roll with the changes and ambiguity of what lay ahead, left us in awe and hugely grateful.

Reopening for that brief time was wonderful. It felt good to have customers dine in again and it felt good to bring back the team who didn’t work during initial lockdown. We were pleasantly surprised at how the business could operate at one third capacity, with strict restrictions yet could achieve our budgets and targets. It filled us with energy and optimism for the future. However, it was short lived.

I write this now as we are navigating lockdown two in Victoria. Once again we find ourselves back on the emotional roller coaster. The transition and the pivot to takeaway was easier this time as we were prepared however the emotional joyride continues. Some days are good, others require a tracksuit pants and a glass of wine.

The public sentiment is different this time. Gone is the comradery of being in this together and in it’s place is frustration and fear. I can’t speak for other states, or any other business for that matter, but I know I speak for us when I say we can’t help but feel we are being left behind. While the rest of the country gets on with it we remain in lockdown. Who knows what the future will bring, or how long this lockdown will go for, but we will continue to operate with purpose, grit and love.

To my team, our customers and our partners we are in this together and we will carry on. To my beautiful venue, The Winey Cow, I love you more than ever…

A black & white photo of The Winey Cow's owners at a celebration in their Mornington venue.