Out-of-the-box solutions helping businesses thrive

Oct 6, 2020

While these strange days have seen businesses close their doors, others have weathered lockdown through creative redirection of their businesses, and thrived in these unsettling times. Here’s an optimistic look at our food scene of the future.

Being proactive rather than reactive is a must, says Diane O’Reilly, co-director of Brisbane-based OMG! Decadent Donuts. Even so, she admits being surprised that the business has grown by 30 per cent since March this year. “Like most people we were knee-jerking at first – strategies were not on our radar,” she says.

OMG! (donuts free from gluten, nuts, yeast, wheat, sulphites, and artificial flavours or colours) works on a license model – a more flexible, budget-conscious alternative to a franchise.

“When COVID-19 hit, we thought ‘Oh, we’re in trouble here’. Our first priority was our licensees who had mostly been selling the donuts at farmers’ markets and at festivals and events and doing super well,” says O’Reilly.

With markets and events no longer happening, an alternative plan was needed. So, OMG! offered training in social media to their licensees and supported them doing deliveries and pop-ups.

“We were very snappy in creating new and interesting content about deliveries and pop-ups and maintaining our general overall tone and personality of the business as fun and positive,” says O’Reilly.

“However, we thought we’d have a real slowing of people wanting to become licensees, but the opposite was true. Some have taken it on as a side-hustle, others have been made redundant and others just want more control over their own financial future.”

OMG! also looked at the other facet of their business – packet mixes wholesaled to restaurants and events companies – and decided to expand to include the home market.

Screen Time

For Roberta Muir, manager of the Sydney Seafood School, taking care of staff provided the impetus for change. In March, the closure of the Sydney Fish Market meant no more cooking classes at the renowned school.

“We had to quickly think how to keep a largely casual workforce employed,” says Muir. “As part of the larger Sydney Fish Market, we didn’t even qualify for JobKeeper.”

Unable to offer cooking classes in person, the team brainstormed and came up with ‘SSS@home’ – video classes with kits of all the necessary ingredients, including seafood, herbs and pantry items sent out or picked up by the participants.

The school moved quickly, shooting the first video and creating the first kit on April 3. Since then, more than 2,000 people have taken part in SSS@Home, Muir says.

“We’ve done a new kit each week since then with sales of 350 to 650 kits a week. Many have ordered virtually every week.”

The video classes feature both their own cooking school staff and high-profile guest chefs. An unexpected pay-off has been the expansion of their market.

“Initially it was our regular guests keen to get an SSS ‘fix’ at home, but it’s broadened to past guests who no longer attend classes due to changed circumstances, and we’ve also reached a whole new market. Some people – especially the blokes, it turns out – prefer to cook in their own kitchens rather than in a room full of strangers.”

According to Muir, while it was initially set up to support staff and suppliers, SSS@home will definitely be continuing post-COVID.

Meeting of Minds

The Grub Club was also born in COVID but will live on, says caterer Nikki Phillips, of Shared Affair. She took a creative approach, pairing up with brother-in-law Nick White of Sydney bar Since I Left You – initially just to ride out the pandemic.

”At the beginning of COVID, we knew that both of our business were going to be hit hard,” says Phillips. “I primarily cater weddings and large events, and he owns a bar in the CBD that was in lockdown. We both obviously have staff and rent that needed to be supported in this period and already had all of the infrastructure in place as we have a commercial kitchen that obviously wasn’t being used much as all of our events had been postponed indefinitely.”

While Phillips says she saw the market flooded with ready-made meal and alcohol delivery services, she felt the quality wasn’t missing and the price-points were too high.

“We decided we wanted to put our resources to good use, to help out while people were struggling,” she says. “We had so many growers and small producers with an abundance of fresh produce that was going to waste due to restaurants closing, so we worked closely with them to create a home-delivery service that would put it to use and provide healthy, hearty and nutritional meals to Sydneysiders feeling the COVID pinch. We don’t waste money on fancy packaging – every cent goes into getting the best produce and creating a quality end product.”

White, meanwhile, takes care of libations. He created his own ‘Grub Club’ wine brand to accompany the meals, priced at a wallet-friendly $15 a bottle.

Since the loosening up of COVID restrictions, the pair have been working on a series of dinners at Since I Left You called “A night at…” showcasing different cuisines from around the world.

“We love to travel, as do our clients, and with this not being an option for the foreseeable future, we have decided to bring the world to Sydney,” Phillips says.

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