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Making It Work: from restaurant to Italian grocer

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Australians have had to adapt after their livelihoods took a hit from government restrictions introduced to curb the spread of coronavirus. In this series called Making It Work, we look at how individuals and businesses have pivoted to stay afloat during the crisis.

Macchiato Woodfire Pizza & Coffee Roastery

An Italian restaurant on the corner of Pitt and Liverpool Streets in Sydney, Macchiato was, until very recently, packed with office workers and tourists.

making it work macchiato

The business has been operating in the same location for 21 years, 17 of them under general manager George Kazzi.

Under pressure

Serving authentic wood-fired pizza and roasting its own coffee, Macchiato was hugely popular until government restrictions limited air travel from China.

Within two weeks the business fell by 90%, and management had lay off its entire casual workforce, leaving just six full-timers.

Then dining out was banned, and the restaurant had to adapt.

Learning to adapt

Kazzi realised that without the customers, the restaurant had stockpile of food it would never cook.

In a time of bare supermarket shelves, he saw an opportunity.

"We had a lot of excess stock - packets of pasta, tomato sauces" says Macchiato marketing manager Allegra Thorburn.

And so Macchiato the Italian grocer was born.

"We moved all the chairs out and used the tables to form aisles to display what we had," she says.

"During these times we're not sure of what to expect, the market is only familiar with what they know.

"On the first day we were successful, just through a campaign on social where we reminded regulars that we were still operating and were offering groceries."

Thorburn says that while the move was financially risky, otherwise the business would have had to close.

Staying afloat

"This has saved us," she says. "The rent is $15,000 a week and wouldn't have made that each week otherwise."

Macchiato is now selling coffee, pasta, tomato sauces, toilet paper, rice, flour and fresh produce.

"We decided to make $20 pre-packed bags [and fruit and vegetables] - cheaper than supermarkets," Thorburn says.

"In our area there's no one else doing what we're doing: we have Italian quality products."

In the first week of operation under its new business model, the business made a profit.

The future

"Rent is still difficult," Thorburn says. "We have been negotiating with the landlord and working each day to get the rent together. It's been made harder when the PM suggested tenants negotiate directly with landlords."

Each week there are fewer people around the CBD.

"It's almost like a ghost town," she says.

The business for will operate as long as it can.

When restrictions are relaxed, staff hope to continue with the grocer side of the business in addition to re-opening the restaurant for diners.

We're cutting through the confusion to help you manage your money during the coronavirus outbreak. Click here for more on how COVID-19 could affect your job, budget, super and investments.

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Julia Newbould is a financial writer and commentator with a background in journalism. She was previously editor of Financial Planning and Super Review magazines; managing editor at InvestorInfo and at Morningstar Australia. Julia co-authored The Joy of Money, a book on women and personal finance. She holds a Bachelor of Economics from the University of Sydney where she serves on the alumni council.
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