7 May 2020
7 May 2020
In mid-March, as the COVID-19 pandemic started to make an impact on Australian shores, Melbourne chef Shane Delia shut the doors on his Middle Eastern restaurants Maha, Maha East and Maha Bar. At the time, Delia estimated he’d need to close his venues for about five weeks. It quickly became apparent that it would be for much longer.
“When I found out we could be closed for up to six months, I thought, ‘Okay, well let’s find a way to make a diamond out of this piece of coal’,” says Delia, a Mercedes-Benz Friend of the Brand. In April, he launched Maha Go, restaurant-quality take-home meals that customers can either pick up from Maha in the CBD or have delivered within a 25-kilometre radius for a flat $14 fee.
Customers order online from a menu that changes weekly, and can choose dishes such as Maha’s signature 800g slow-roasted lamb shoulder served with steamed beans and a choice of side salad; baked salmon with walnut and pomegranate tabouleh; or sticky roasted cauliflower with harissa and preserved lemon chermoula. Many of the dishes require some cooking or assembly on the part of the customer to ensure they’re at peak freshness and deliciousness, although some are designed to simply heat and serve.
Maha is only one example of a fine food establishment pivoting its operation to cope with COVID-19. In Sydney, hospitality giant Merivale offers a range of full-menu takeaway and cook-at-home meal box options from its restaurants, including Totti’s, Mr Wong, Bert’s, The Paddington and Coogee Pavilion. As with Maha Go, offering a delivery option has allowed Merivale to re-employ hundreds of staff as delivery drivers.
In Adelaide, Shōbōsho chef Adam Liston’s immediate response to the shutdown was to put his kitchen team to work providing meals for doctors, nurses and healthcare workers through his new to-go service Dr. Shō. Due to popular demand, and in order to generate a revenue stream for his business, Liston recently opened Dr. Shō to the wider public, meaning Shōbōsho’s famous katsu sandos and yakitori skewers can now be picked up (or delivered) to enjoy at home.
As well as takeaway meals, some businesses around the country have reimagined their offering entirely, converting their restaurants into delis or grocers selling pantry and fridge staples and wine. In Perth, Bread in Common has transformed into a takeaway deli selling bread, pastries, coffee, house-made condiments and fresh fruit and vegetables. In Brisbane, Restaurant Dan Arnold launched a pop-up grocery store to complement its at-home degustation meal packs.
Bartenders are getting creative, too. Brisbane’s cult cocktail bar Maker has teamed up with neighbouring Gauge restaurant to create a $40-per-person set menu that includes bottled cocktails. In Melbourne, CBD bar Romeo Lane is batching cocktails in ziplock-style bags and delivering them to inner-city suburbs. All you need to add is ice.
While many hospitality owners can’t wait to return to business-as-usual, others are less certain. “I miss the romance of restaurants, but they’re hard work,” says Delia, who plans to keep Maha Go operating after the crisis passes. “Small margins, increasing compliance, constant pressure, unit costs rising, staff costs rising, rent rising, more competition, less diversification.
“After six months of living this new style of life, people aren’t just going to suddenly forget about it, it’s going to be in our DNA,” says Delia. “Maybe now, instead of getting a pizza or Uber Eats delivered to your house, you’ll order a beautiful restaurant-prepared meal once a week.
“I think it’s definitely a rose that’s grown from concrete and will be here to stay.”
By Anna Webster