Hospo CheckIn: Andrew & Mary White

Andrew and Mary White have owned and operated much-loved CBD cafe, Cafe e  Torta in the Royal Arcade for 20 years (this year!) as well as tea house, Royal St Collins. 

As plans to celebrate the 20 birthday had to be postponed in light of COVID-19, the couple are remaining positive and hoping – cautiously – for a bright future and a CBD buzzing once more. 

1. What has been the biggest challenge for you both during the second lockdown? 

This year was going to be the year for celebrating our 20 years at Caffe e Torta, but as it turned out, a pandemic had other plans and turned our year upside down.

The second lockdown was just as challenging as the first one. In the first lockdown and after the initial shock of having to close 

Caffe e Torta after 20 years and Royal St Collins, we had a crash course in learning a new set of admin tasks, such as, applying for Jobkeeper for our eligible staff,  applying for government grants to help pay for ongoing costs and writing up COVID safety plans for our reopening, then there was 

having to negotiate with our landlords. Being small business owners, you end up doing everything yourself, you have no choice.

But our biggest challenge was the uncertainty and lack of government support for our international visa holders.

This was even more heartbreaking during the second lockdown.

We tried take away, especially to keep some staff on and employed, but like most operators in the CBD, we quickly realised that foot traffic was now non-existent. Also our business model was set up years ago as a sit-in dinning experience, this is what we know and who we are.

2.  What has surprised you about yourselves and your community this year? 

Most of the hospitality community who go into running their own business do so because they like being in control.

This global pandemic has taken that control away and for us personally, the biggest surprise about ourselves has been that we are more than capable of coping with uncertainty and ongoing changes than we give ourselves credit for. 

Our combined experience and longevity in this industry, going through boom times and hard times during our 20 years and seeing our city grow to its pre-COVID world status has made us resilient and stubbornly determined, which helps us to stay focused and not get caught up with some of the negativity that is out there. 

3. How are you, your family and your team? 

Even though we have had some dark days, we are feeling cautiously optimistic about our future.

We are blessed to have wonderful support from our team, some of whom have been with us for many years, including our international visa holders, who we think of as family.

We talk regularly and check in to see what they might need and also to give them hope.

Some of our actual family work with us as well, our brother Spiro, father Con and next in line is our teenage daughter Scarlett, who is joining the team during the summer school holidays.

We are one big happy family and that’s how we like it!

We can’t wait to all get back to work, to re-connect and share our love for our industry and finally celebrate our 20 year anniversary at Cafe e Torta with everyone.

Together we can all help bring back to life our world class city of Melbourne we all know and love.