Bakery crumbles amid lockdown pressure

By Brendan Rees

Melbourne’s fifth lockdown has been the final straw for a Melbourne CBD bakery, which will close within weeks.

After 14 years, Bernie Fox made the gut-wrenching call to close his shop, CBD Bakery, indefinitely after tough COVID restrictions reduced his customers to a trickle.

“It’s killing us. I used to have 11 staff and now it’s just myself and a pastry cook. It’s just ridiculous. Once we get to the end of the lease we’ll be closing,” he said.

“If people aren’t coming through the door because no one’s on the street it doesn’t make sense ... it’s like opening up a bakery in the middle of the desert.

“We’ve probably served 50 customers today, we used to serve 550,” he said referring to a Monday’s trade.

The Bourke St bakery had kept operating with takeaway customers, but with no rent relief or the federal JobKeeper payment available, Mr Fox had accepted that “the numbers don’t work anymore”, and would close his shop on August 13.  

“To come to work each day and lose money, what’s the point?” Mr Fox, 56, said. “It’s nothing we’ve done, there’s just nobody on the street … it’s just terrible.”

He said unless there was a better plan than lockdowns to give businesses more certainty and confidence going forward, things would only be “getting worse and worse”.

The news comes as popular rooftop bar Madame Brussels also announced it would close its doors after 15 years.

“Darlings, it’s with heavy heart to bring you our news of curtain closing, with our last day of trade on July 25,” the Bourke St bar posted on its website before the fifth lockdown.

“We will be honouring our current bookings up until then but all other enquiries are walk-ins only.”

The announcement triggered an outpouring of emotion from past and present patrons on social media.

“Absolutely devastating news. MB is our favourite and an iconic Melbourne treasure,” one wrote on Facebook.

“So sad and sorry to hear you’re closing. I’ve loved going into your quirky, cute, interesting bar. I’ve been going for years,” another wrote.

Also grieving the effects of the lockdown was Dani Zeini, owner of Royal Stacks in Collins St, who said daily revenue – from selling only takeaways – was down 75 to 80 per cent on normal trade.

“We’re doing a fraction of what we normally do. We’ve had to let staff go, we’re trying to find a way to stay open to give them some hours,” Mr Zeini said.

He said while he had enough notice to change his daily orders so he did not have to throw stock out, he felt like he was starting from scratch as the lockdown had “broken the spirit” of customers and staff. 

Lisa Li, owner of popular coffee shop Manchester Press, said she was forced to close for the period of the lockdown after foot traffic plummeted.

 “We tried but it’s not enough even for one barista’s payment,” she said after selling takeaway to five to six customers in one day.

Anthony Dinh, co-owner of Korean dessert shop Scoopy in Guildford Lane, said while he was “never too sure what’s going to happen and how people are going to react to change and the situation,” he counted himself lucky that their customer base had grown thanks largely to an increase in delivery orders.

Australian Retailers Association CEO Paul Zahra reiterated calls for a national approach to managing COVID lockdowns and restrictions as they were “so damaging to businesses and livelihoods”.

The Victorian government announced new cash grants, with up to 90,000 businesses that have and will receive payments through the Licensed Hospitality Venue Fund and Business Costs Assistance Program relating to the May-June lockdown will receive new support payments of up to $3000 •

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