Southbank businesses innovate with council’s COVID grants

By Katie Johnson

COVID-19 has forced Southbank businesses to innovate in ways they never expected in order to stay afloat.

For the hospitality sector, this has meant moving everything online—a difficult process which the City of Melbourne’s $5 million business grant scheme has aimed to ease.

Belgian Beer Café owner Michael Burke was among the latest round of grant applicants approved on May 29—using the money to transform the bar’s website to enable online orders.

“We received $4545 from the grant which we used to pay back the cost of updating our website to enable online, take-away orders,” Mr Burke said.

“If that grant wasn’t available there’s no way we could have taken the chance to convert our website. We simply wouldn’t have done it and potentially would’ve had to close our doors.”

With the help of the grant—which provides support for businesses to invest in online and e-commerce capabilities—the Belgian-themed bar at Riverside Quay has stayed open all the way through restrictions. This feat has benefitted the whole community.

“We were able to provide a service for the few residents that were left in Southbank and keep staff engaged in the business—particularly those international and casual workers that didn’t get any government support,” Mr Burke said.

As of June 1, Belgian Beer Café re-opened to patrons. And although business has been far from usual, the re-opening has been an overwhelming success.

“We’ve been at capacity every night since, which is obviously a lot lower than normal. But even though it’s not what it was like pre-COVID-19 we can see an ever-so-faint light at the end of the tunnel,” Mr Burke said

South Wharf’s beloved Thai restaurant, BangPop, can also see that light.

After receiving $4500 in the same round of grants, area manager Sam Shaw said BangPop was able to re-vamp its cooking classes to allow customers to learn online.

“Instead of doing the pad thai and papaya salad classes in-house, we decided to pack all of the ingredients up and deliver it to people’s homes. The chef would then teach them how to make it individually on Zoom—so that worked really well,” Mr Shaw said

BangPop also used the money to set up the South Wharf Restaurants Hub—a collaboration between a number of venues in Southbank to provide online cooking classes to homes all around Australia.

“We’re spending the money on providing and marketing better online classes, and we’re also looking to expand into Sydney, Adelaide and Hobart so people can buy their own ingredients there and we can see whether BangPop is successful in those markets,” Mr Shaw said.

As more Southbank businesses continue to be approved for the council’s COVID-19 business grant, venues like BangPop and Belgian Beer Café are shining examples of how local business can thrive during difficult circumstances.

And it’s this innovative spirit which Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the grant scheme intended to nurture.

“We have received an overwhelming response to this grants program with thousands of small- and medium-sized businesses applying for financial support,” the Lord Mayor said.

“This goes to show that even in tough times, our local businesses are ready to tackle challenges head on, think differently and adapt, which is an admirable spirit we want to reward and support as much as we can.” •

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