Since COVID hit, hospitality has had to change the way it fundamentally operates. We spoke with Sonia Anthony from restaurant Masons of Bendigo about her experiences in a time when the only constant is change.
She begins by explaining the vibe in Bendigo generally – “It takes a good two weeks to get your own community’s confidence up to come out and dine. And that’s a general sentiment across the board, not just our industry. It’s not as simple as flicking a switch. Every time is different and there’s a whole new range of things you have to navigate your way around.”
While a change of operating hours has helped Sonia and her partner Nick manage the snap lockdowns, they recognise how hard it is for their casual staff.
“We check in with our team to see how things are, make sure they’re getting all of their support packages they need, links to mental health resources and just providing all that information. People are becoming more fatigued, plus you add the extra layer of a Melbourne lockdown and people not doing the right thing. It’s tricky.”
With home-schooling a year 11 student also creating its own set of challenges, Sonia reflects on how she copes on a personal level.
“Every lockdown is different; it’s got its positives and its negatives. It’s challenging when your business is the sole source of income – how do you pay your work bills, your home bills and not feel completely over-whelmed.”
My simple strategy is just to really narrow things down and look at how I can contribute in a positive way to my community, and that gives me an alternative focus.
That’s where the idea for the Lockdown Gastronomy Degustation of lockdown 5.0 came from. Along with three other restaurants (The Dispensary, Ms Batterhams and The Gold Mines Hotel) Masons of Bendigo created a ‘finish at home’ meal box, featuring a cocktail and starter, entrée, main and dessert.
“Ultimately it wasn’t so much about the income (although that was very welcome) it was about connecting with other business owners and with the community. There was so much support. That’s what gives you strength and gets you through.”
It is little wonder she was recently nominated for a Community Hero Award, recognising her work over the last 18 months advocating for local Bendigo hospitality businesses and associated supply chain.
And a final word of advice from Sonia? “Turn the news off and on and keeping on!”
WHAT: Masons of Bendigo
WHERE: 25 Queen St, Bendigo
WHEN: Open Tuesday – Saturdays 6pm – 10pm, lunch Friday & Saturday 12-3pm
MORE INFO: Masons of Bendigo