How a Sydney cafe owner is navigating COVID-19

23 March, 2020 by
Annabelle Cloros

Sam Terrey is the owner of Small Talk café in the Sydney suburb of Dulwich Hill. Blink and you might miss it, if not for the milk crates out the front and coffee sign hanging from the roof.

Terrey, a barista and pastry enthusiast, opened the café in 2017 after fitting out the venue himself. It’s safe to say COVID-19 is the biggest hurdle Small Talk has faced over its life, but Terrey isn’t letting a pandemic stop the wheels from turning.

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Now restaurant and cafe owners know what they’re dealing with – takeaway and delivery only – many can make the decision to continue trading under the restrictions or close.

Terrey made the call to go takeaway-only last week. Small Talk is now a cash-free operation that sells coffee in disposable cups. Terrey estimates 50 per cent of his takeaway customers brought in a reusable cup before the spread of COVID-19, but says most customers have been understanding of the decision. “It’s not something we wanted to do, but we have to do it,” he says. “80 per cent of them understand, but the others are a bit annoyed.”

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Customers can pre-order pastries and bagels over Instagram and pick them up, and the café owner says the take up so far has been positive. “I’ve had a bunch of orders and I’m trying to think of creative ways to keep sales going for people who are stuck at home,” says Terrey. “There’s always going to be ups and downs – you just need to evolve and do what you can to make things happen.”

Terrey has two part-time staff, but keeping them safe and employed is a key part of all the decisions he’s made thus far. “I don’t want to leave these guys in the lurch so I have been changing things as soon as possible because I don’t have a massive team and can’t replace people if someone gets sick.”

Small Talk is set up for takeaway, but delivery simply isn’t a feasible option.

“Services will need to wave some of their fees to make it viable,” says Terrey. “At 30 per cent, a business like my own wouldn’t use that service, but I’ll look into the options and see what can be done.”

While the future is a huge question mark for many operators, Terrey is confident Small Talk will be able to navigate the coming weeks, despite the fact his pre-COVID-19 sales were 80/20 dine-in to takeaway on weekends and 60/40 on weekdays.

“My business is very low-cost, I don’t really need to change too much,” he says. “I can probably go a month being closed and be okay, but you don’t know if people will be eager to get out and spend money again after – it could be months to recover.

“The key would be looking at countries like Italy who are coming up to the end of their quarantine period and seeing their recovery rates.”

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Image credit: Time Out