Companies struggle to stay afloat

Clarkes Bar & Dining Room in Bree Street is one of the restaurants which were forced had closed its doors for lockdown. They started a delivering service to survive

As the country moves to lockdown level 3 today, businesses in the Cape Town CBD are “doing everything possible to survive”, adapting with tenacity to the “new normal” in a bid to keep their doors open and their companies afloat.

Many businesses have been severely affected by the lockdown regulations that all but shut down the economy. However, they have come out fighting.

Chairperson of the Central City Improvement District (CCID) and CEO of Boxwood Property Fund Rob Kane said there have been myriad examples of Cape Town CBD businesses adapting agilely to the “new normal”. 

“Landlords have adapted their sanitising regimes, admittance procedures, temperature checking and more. And businesses are constantly looking to improve their offerings to patrons. This has required a lot of thought and some brilliant creative ideas have been implemented.”

As lockdown level 3 starts, Mr Kane said it’s going to be a challenge to get the economic engine going again. However, he believes that “crises breed opportunities and this one will be no different”. 
“Business in South Africa has always been able to ‘see the gap’. It is important that government does all it can to facilitate this entrepreneurial flair; its role here cannot be overstated. We also need to accommodate others and show compassion. It’s time for us to shine as business people and human beings.”

Paul Rubin, owner of Nude Foods in the east city, said the business quickly adapted by offering deliveries and curb-side collections. “It’s been nerve-wracking, but we are doing everything possible to survive. Our team spirit has been amazing, and we are learning a lot about e-commerce. We’ve also witnessed extreme loyalty from our regular customers, which has been inspiring.”

The owner Clarke’s Bar & Dining Room in Bree Street, Lyndall Maunder, said the uncertainty has made it all so difficult. “We have tried to take measures, but it’s incredibly hard to make decisions and an ‘action plan’ when there is a total unknown looming, and when things are changing so rapidly.” 

Clarke’s has been offering delivery and collection of organic vegetables, baked goods and a wide range of meat, including free range beef plus Cheeseburger and Sloppy Joe DIY Kits. Additionally, from today, they will be able to supply customers with beers and wines when collecting their groceries or takeaways, including cocktail packs.

Laurence Heald, founder of Folk Coffee, said the last few weeks have been a giant mass of admin. “Applying for the necessary UIF and relief funds whilst minding the kids at home has been a nightmare. Uncertainty around everything is stressful for all the staff and our efforts have been on trying to find a positive way forward that can see everyone back in their positions soon.” He said a big positive is still to come from launching an online ordering platform. Additionally, regulars have been checking in and donating to the staffs’ wellbeing. “We couldn’t be more grateful.”

Cape Town’s original leather merchant since 1867 – Woodheads – has seen and survived a lot, but this is by far the biggest challenge, said owner Richard Harris, who had been part of the business for 30 years. “We’ve had to adapt very fast, change a lot of the normal business processes and make decisions with extremely limited information at times. Fortunately, our customers and many of our suppliers have been very supportive and patient.” 

Woodheads is selling Covid-19 materials for mask makers, while preparing to sell its retail winter goods online.

Grub & Vine owners have created an innovative way in order to survive: Virtual Dining. It’s a “unique fine dining experience you can enjoy at home”. Basically, you order the five-course menu for delivery, three of the five courses are already prepared by Chef Matt, and then you create the starter and the main by following Matt’s video tutorial.

Michael Chandler, artist and owner of Chandler House store and gallery, said the last few weeks have been a mixed bag. Right now, he said he is focusing on commission work and recently launched a virtual showcase of the art of Alexandra Karamallis. He believes considered steps must be taken as the CBD reopens. “I think if we return carefully, respecting social distancing and hand-sanitising, we can get back to some sense of normality that involves people getting back to work to aid a gravely ill economy.”

Ruth Grahame of SeaBreeze Fish & Shell says the popular sit-down restaurant remains closed, but when the lockdown was enforced in March, they started an online fish shop and have been doing deliveries. Now customers can visit the Fish Deli, which is also open. She said the business has applied for UIF for all staff, but only 50 % of people have been paid so far. Rent discussions have also been stressful. “We are rewriting our business plan as we receive information from the government. The best thing people can do for us to continue to spread the word we are still in business even if it’s not yet for sit-downs.”

Mr Kane said there was no doubt that rebuilding is going to be tough for everyone. “After a hurricane, we take stock of the damage. Then we need to decide on next steps – what do we need to do in order to keep our businesses running? Then it’s time for action.”