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Aussie Business Owners Affected By Lockdown Remain Optimistic

The country’s restaurants, cafes, gyms and cinemas are hurting as Australia begins to shut down – but many business owners remain optimistic and are trying new things to stay afloat.

From midday on Monday, ‘non-essential’ services were ordered to close nationwide, under the first stage of Australia’s strict social distancing restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The order included licensed clubs, pubs, cinemas, places of worship and indoor sport centres venues including gyms. ‘Essential services’ such as grocery stores, petrol stations, post offices, shopping centres and health services remain open, while cafes and restaurants are limited to takeaway only.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has warned tighter restrictions could follow if Australians continue to ignore health warnings.

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Across the country, businesses -- from Sydney’s oldest pub to cinema chain Hoyts and local community gyms -- closed their doors, not knowing if, or when, they’ll reopen. Some had to give staff notice they’re out of work.

An employee of Italian restaurant Il Gusto offering a takeaway service in Melbourne. Image: AAP

Adelaide gym owner Aaron Ramsay said he was taken back to when a fire broke out at his business two years ago.

“It feels like that, it’s tough. You don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s like a rolling monster,” Ramsay told 10 News First.

"For us, trying to keep positive is difficult but it’s what you need to do to keep people upbeat to get through this."

Ramsay runs North Adelaide Fitness Centre and said he agrees with the government’s shutdown measures.

“As tough as it is, I think it has to happen,” he said, adding the recent photographs of crowds cramming onto Sydney's Bondi Beach showed Aussies weren’t listening to health warnings.

Restaurant owner Peter Curcuruto said he saw the nationwide lockdown coming.

“It was just a matter of time,” he told 10 daily.

“... even though we planned for it and we knew it was coming, it’s surreal."

It’s unprecedented; we’re definitely going into uncertain times.
A Sydney cafe closed its indoor seating area on Monday. Image: AAP

Seeing The Bright Side

Curcuruto is one of the owners of Bistro Rex, a French restaurant in Sydney’s Potts Point -- an area known for its cosmopolitan lifestyle.

The restaurant started offering home delivery and takeaway services a couple of weeks before the lockdown kicked in.

Curcuruto anticipates an “upswing” in the coming weeks as locals start to get sick of cooking at home.

“Everyone around here is living in their apartments every day, so I think the novelty of cooking and living with cooking smells will wear off," he said.

"It is probably going to drive home delivery and takeaway up for us, particularly around lunchtime."

It’s one way the restaurant owner is adapting to uncertain times.

Curcuruto said now is the time for businesses to be “organic” in their offerings.

He said Bistro Rex will start offering “restaurant-quality” meals, such as whole-roasted chickens, and will consider delivering groceries that aren't available in supermarkets.

“Only time will tell if the demand is there,” he said.

But ultimately, with chefs still in the kitchen and waitstaff delivering food, these offerings are keeping his staff and suppliers employed.

"This is not a time to make money -- it’s hard enough when we’re full to make money,” he said.

“It takes ages to build a great kitchen and floor team. To have everyone scatter would be devastating,” he said.

Paying It Forward

For Sydney restaurant owner David Quick, supporting the community through the coronavirus pandemic is front of mind -- and he hopes this will get him through.

Quick runs Casoni Sydney, an Italian bar and eatery in Darlinghurst. Like many, he is concerned for his staff and is scratching for cash. In the meantime, he’s focusing on expanding his takeaway and home delivery options to support those who cannot leave their homes.

For us, I think it’s about garnering support from the community by making sure we’re doing the right thing by them. And when things return to normal, they’ll do the right thing back.

Quick set up ‘Casoni Cares’, an online and phone service that will deliver basic food items to the elderly, non-mobile and disabled people in the local community each day.

The service will be up and running on Tuesday.

"It will be me in our jeep running around to people’s houses, and my workers will hopefully be running around helping too,” he said.

Casoni will also offer 49 per cent discounts to local hospitality workers who hold an RSA, frontline medical staff, aged care workers and teachers.

“If I can generate business, it not only helps us but at the end of the day, it helps them," he said.

Meanwhile, social media users are setting up initiatives such as 'Saving Plates'  and 'We Are Open' to promote restaurants who need support.

Fitness Industry Moves Online

For the fitness industry, many services are moving online.

Ramsay said his gym will start to offer online packages for members, making use of Facebook Live to film and share at-home workouts.

“It’s about being creative with what resistance we can use … people can use canned goods to squat, pull, push and move,” he said.

Do we have a corona two-week ration workout? That depends how long we’ll be closed for, but trying to see the light in all of this will be useful.

But the sector is still looking for some clarity. Industry body Fitness Australia said many gyms have shut their doors but some remain confused as to whether they can offer any services at all.

“It is still unclear if services offered within the fitness industry can continue to operate,” Fitness Australia CEO Barrie Elvish said in a statement.

The industry body is also asking for clarification around the timeframe of closures.

For all businesses, that remains an unknown.

"I do think we can survive this," Quick said.

"But I don't know how long this will go on for. If it’s a few months, we’ll be okay. If they’re talking six months, I think you’ll find many restaurants are out of business."