With the hospitality sector in freefall, a leader in the Canberra restaurant scene has been working day and night to throw the industry a lifeline in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
Chris Hansen, a 25-year veteran of the restaurant industry in Canberra, has in just a week built a new business, Canberra Eats, an online restaurant meal ordering service that will strive to help local restaurants survive the crisis and provide work to suddenly unemployed hospitality staff.
The site, canberraeats.com, will be open for orders from 9am on Monday, delivering restaurant-quality meals and wine direct to people self-isolating, or otherwise, in their homes.
Mr Hansen has already signed up 12 local restaurants, from Temporada in the city to Pialligo Urban and Assembly in Braddon to Abell's Kopi Tiam in Manuka and Agostinis in Griffith.
Ten drivers have been employed, all hospitality workers recently retrenched due to the closure of restaurants and cafes, as part of the official response to the coronavirus crisis.
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Mr Hansen said he started building the site last Saturday after reading an article about the large, multinational meal delivery services and deciding they were "doing our industry no favours".
Canberra Eats will be charging restaurants almost half the commission of the big operators and paying its drivers above-award wages, in contrast to drivers who were on bare-bones contracts with the multinationals.
"We are trying to give more revenue back to the restaurants," Mr Hansen said.
"It is very, very important to keep them operating and employing people."
The restaurants signed up with Canberra Eats so far are Mamma Dough Pizza (Ainslie), Edgar's Inn (Ainslie), Assembly (Braddon), Pialligo Urban (Braddon), Shorty's (Garema Place), Parlour (New Acton), Temporada (Civic), Old Canberra Inn (Lyneham), Abell's Kopi Tiam (Manuka), Agostinis (East Hotel) and the National Press Club (Barton). The Albion Cafe in Braidwood will be providing frozen meals. (And the Assembly bar is offering a complimentary roll of toilet paper with every order over $65.)
The tagline is "Locals supporting their local".
Customers place their order before 5pm for delivery that night in one of three timeslots: 6pm-7pm, 7pm to 8pm and 8pm to 9pm.
There will be a $55 minimum order and a $10 delivery charge. Deliveries, initially, will be within a 15km zone around each restaurant to ensure the meal stays hot. Delivery will be contact-less.
People can register on the site, so that if there is enough demand in various suburbs, their local restaurants can be brought on board.
Abell Ong, owner of Abell's Kopi Tiam, an institution in Manuka for 23 years, said he had never signed up to the multinational delivery services - "the big boys" - as the return was so small, it was not worth it.
He had signed up to Canberra Eats because there was a reasonable return.
"I think it's a good idea," Mr Ong said.
Mr Hansen, who has been a partner in or founded restaurants such as Chairman and Yip, Lanterne Rooms, Cape Cod and Ox Eatery, has in more recent years run a hospitality recruitment company.
While that has taken a hit, it meant he was in the perfect position to match restaurants with skilled hospitality workers and try to provide additional business for eateries during the crisis.
He has been working 18 hours a day on the new site. Special Canberra Eats t-shirts ("Founded 2020") for the drivers were able to be sourced within 48 hours.
"We don't know if it's going to work but we're going to give it a crack," he said.
Mr Hansen said no one knew what the hospitality industry would look like after the pandemic passed.
"But I think the landscape has changed for good," he said.
"Even if Canberra Eats has to close in a month's time, we are ready to go [when the pandemic passes] and help restaurants to get back on their feet.
"Even when we are given the all-clear, people, especially older people, may still be hesitant to go out to eat in restaurants. We hope, eventually, to have 100 places on board by then and meet whatever demand is there."
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