Last year, saw Megan Griffey and chef Jenna Abbruzzese, business partners and owners of Hawthorn cafe Our Kitchenette, make the permanent change from a cafe to retail and ready-made meals, online and in-store.
The pair have stocked the shop with fresh meals prepared by Jenna as well as beautiful tableware and ceramics, selected by Megan. The change has been embraced by their regulars and broader community and their catering arm is going strong, so we checked in to see how they’re going as they reopened this week to kick off 2021.
1. What was the biggest challenge for you both during the second lockdown in 2020? Can you tell us about the new business model for Our Kitchenette?
We were lucky that there wasn’t too much change for us during the second lockdown. The decisions made during the first lockdown had set us up to weather the disruptions of the second lockdown.
The challenge for us was the first lockdown. The complete uncertainty and the fast pace of change was very unsettling. Neither Jenna nor I are “fly by the seat of your pants” people, in fact planning is one of Jenna’s favourite past times! We were determined to not close during the lockdown, for many reasons – to be there for our community, to have a routine for ourselves, finances were also a concern.
We had to come up with a solution that would ensure we stayed open no matter how strict the lockdown became. A food store was the solution, surely if Woolworths was to stay open we as a small business could too? There were no guarantees but it seemed to be our best chance.
When restrictions came in to play in March and cafes and restaurants were told they could open only for take away Jenna came up with our new range of ready-made meals and preserves. Comforting, nutritious and delicious, everyday simple food cooked with care and consideration. We also knew that with the “density rule” we would not be able to return to dine in. We had to re-work our business model. After speaking with customers and seeing how attitudes were changing, many were speaking of eating at home more often and how much they were enjoying the slower pace of life. It seemed natural to add beautiful tablewares to our store. We decided to support local as much as possible. Textural fine linens from WA, handcrafted ceramics from Reservoir in Melbourne. All of a sudden our little shop was reminiscent of the eclectic stores I’d see in The Hamptons or Savannah, Georgia when I lived in the U.S. The new model was born!
2. What has surprised you about yourselves during this time?
Nothing like a crisis to test a friendship! Jenna and I have known each other a long time, since Jenna was 17, going into business together has definitely had its highs and lows. We haven’t always seen eye-to-eye, the challenges of business along with spending at least 60 hours a week in each others pockets can be a strain on even the best of relationships. During COVID, and it might sound cliched, but I think we were very conscious of being kind to ourselves and each other. We really came together to fight for the survival of our little shop. Our relationship is stronger than ever.
3. How are you feeling about the year ahead?
There is a definite change in the air this new year and it’s not just because I’ve had a nice long break! The city is getting it’s vibe back, people are out enjoying themselves and it’s great to see the little seaside and country towns that would have struggled through the lockdown absolutely heaving over summer. Luxury car sales are up, the real estate market is booming and though we are in a recession and I cannot deny there are a lot of people doing it tough, there is optimism in the air and a confidence brought about I think by feeling like we, the Victorian community pulled together, got it done and we are getting our reward of a return to a certain normality.