Restaurants snapped shut

Andy Dang in his empty restaurant Hoa Tran during the circuit-breaker lockdown. 228680_05 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

Springvale restaurant owner Andy Dang had been prepared for a bumper Lunar New Year and Valentine’s Day weekend.

Then with a few hours’ notice, a five-day snap Covid lockdown stranded his Hoa Tran restaurant with a tonne of noodles but no one to feed.

His tables closed from midnight Friday 12 February, a full list of bookings were cancelled.

Days of preparing pots of stocks, ordering foods for the weekend came to nought.

“We ordered so much stuff. Everything is thrown away,” Mr Dang said.

“It was so unexpected, so fast and so quick.”

Despite the annual Springvale Lunar New Year festival already being cancelled, the weekend’s celebrations had been hoped to help businesses recover some of 2020’s heavy losses.

Instead, lockdown’s eerie desolation returned – albeit more briefly.

There had been fears the ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown – in response to Covid infections escaping Holiday Inn hotel quarantine – might extend 14 days or beyond.

Mr Dang says he’s wracked by thoughts of when the next snap lockdown will hit.

“At the moment, I can’t plan a week ahead, just day by day. Every day something new comes out of (Premier Daniel Andrews’) mouth – they keep changing the rules.

“I know we have to play a part. I’m just devastated by the whole situation. We don’t seem to get (Covid-19) under control.”

During lockdown, takeaways only was a loss-maker.

“The main problem is the five-kilometre rule. It’s a killer for any business.”

And the bills still roll in even while he can’t trade, he says.

More government assistance for small businesses was needed – “band-aid” grants “here and there” of up to $10,000 were of no real help, Mr Dang said.

The business came off the winding-down JobKeeper scheme in December.

Thi Lanh Trang, who owns Mekong restaurant, is on the brink –unable to pay her next week’s rent.

Being a new business, Mekong is ineligible for JobKeeper support. Since buying in July and enduring months of lockdowns and a 10-customer limit, she says she’s made just $1600.

Once the owner of a successful bakery in Richmond, Ms Trang wanted to set up a business closer to home where she could care for her 97-year-old grandmother.

New Year’s weekend had at last provided full bookings for her fledgling business.

She had prepared large stocks of food – vegetables, meat, seafood and pots of soup that went uneaten.

After just four takeaway orders on Saturday, Ms Trang closed the restaurant entirely until the end of lockdown.

Searn Ear who owns ham manufacturer Saigon Food Products said many of his restaurant clients had not survived 2020.

Businesses that endured were just starting to recover momentum before Chinese New Year, Mr Ear said.

“It’s been a roller coaster since the lockdowns last year.

“When it’s not under lockdown it’s very busy and everyone is very confident.

“Now the whole place is empty and it takes three or four weeks to recover.”

Many of the businesses were owned by Asian migrants who had already come from “tough times”. “There’s a resilience. I can only imagine our parents packing their bags leaving for a new country and not having anything.”

“We take it as it comes. All we can do is stay positive.”

Springvale Asian Business Association (SABA) president Daniel Cheng said the lockdown hit Springvale hard, just as it was starting to get back to its “vibrant” normal self.

Greater Dandenong councillor Richard Lim said the buzzy mood in Springvale had gone “very quiet”.

“All the shops are closed. I feel sorry for the florists and those in hospitality.”

 Premier Daniel Andrews said Victorians’ “sacrifices and the hard slog” was “driving the virus into the ground”.

“Because of you, we’ve been able to track, trace and corner this mutant and more infectious strain of the virus.”

On 17 February, Mr Andrews announced an easing of restrictions, including the re-opening of restaurants, retail and entertainment venues.

There were no new cases of coronavirus over the previous 24 hours. The state had 25 active cases, 3400 primary close contacts and more than 40 high-exposure sites, mainly linked to the Holiday Inn cluster.

Mask wearing is required in indoor public spaces. Up to five visitors are allowed to attend homes per day, with gatherings of up to 20 in public.

“As much as far as we’ve come, as much as we’ve achieved, without the full-scale rollout of the vaccine – this virus isn’t going away.”

Opposition health spokesperson Georgie Crozier said the Premier was refusing to release health advice to justify the restrictions.

“Andrews is hell bent on exerting power over the citizens of Victoria rather than being able to manage outbreaks in a calm and sensitive way.”

Your first stop before buying a home. View the whole picture.