Hospo CheckIn: Mauro Callegari

We checked in with Mauro Callegari, chef/owner of The Independent in Gembrook who has received great support from his local community.

1. What has been the biggest challenge for your business in adapting again in the second lockdown?

With the first lock down, we closed for 5 or 6 weeks, I can’t remember, it feels this has been going on for years.

At first, we were overwhelmed by the amount of things we needed to do, everything was almost starting from scratch, on top of that we didn’t know what reaction we were going to get from our customers.

The first few weeks we did only “ready-to-heat at home packs” we did ok, but we were still doing only 20% of the regular turnover.

We did a bit of research and started to do hot food, delivery and take away, the response was good, now we were at 30% of our regular revenue.

When we reopened with reduced amount of patrons, it was ok, we were covering the basic costing but, when the second lockdown was put into place, it was devastating, demoralizing, I was very angry, because doing all the right things, wasn’t enough.

We sucked it up and came up with themed food packages. It changes every week, we deliver pretty much everywhere from Ferntree Gully to Nar Nar Goon and every Saturday we do a special area for our ready-to-heat at home meals. It helps a lot, our community is small and everyone does their best to support every business, but the truth is that, it’s not enough.

2. How is the mood in your community of Gembrook, have they embraced the delivery/takeaway model you offer ? Has the community surprised you in any way?

To be honest, the mood changes quite often, the community is really supporting us, a lot more than I could ever imagine, maybe this has something to do with the fact that we help a lot around the area, with schools, festivals, fundraisers…

The community has been brilliant, the messages of hope and support, the virtual hugs, messages, notes, and the most surprising of all, is that a lot of people are returning vouchers. They say, “We don’t need to redeem this, you do so much for our town and community, now it’s time to give back to you”.

Some people’s actions make you cry of happiness.

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

My family is ok, some are in Argentina, some in Spain, USA, when I hear their Covid stories, I realise how lucky we are here in Australia, we can agree or disagree with the government, but trust me, we are very lucky to get some sort of help. I am very thankful about it.

My team is small, we used to employ 30 people at the restaurant, now we are only 11, it was sad to see some of them going. They didn’t qualify for JobKeeper.

The team has its up and downs, but everyone is doing their best, I couldn’t be any happier with them. At first it was hard, we were confused about rules, payments, it was a lot of uncertainties, but now we are all working like a great family, every day I say to myself, I am very lucky to have them here with me.

The Independent Gembrook