In the past few weeks, another hospitality business has had to turn its light off – a saddening occurrence that’s becoming all too common in light of COVID-19.
Sydney’s Bowery Lane, along with high-end corporate catering business Catering Project and Pomelo & Co too have felt the wrath of the pandemic – causing business closure and the loss of more than 100 employees.
“I just hope to get back on the road again and get all these guys their jobs back. It’s tested everyone.”
The Group Operations and owner behind the trio, Kaz Derbas, has been left to pick up the pieces of his once-thriving and in-demand hospitality service.
“All sales are down 80–95%,” Kaz confirms. “It’s been a difficult process of closing the restaurant down for the interim. We had 165 staff but had to come down to a core team of about 20, which has been the most difficult part.”
But rather than throwing in the towel, Kaz and his team decided to create Pomelo + Online, a premium meal delivery business that services Sydney, Wollongong, Newcastle and beyond.
The past month has been a big eye-opener for Kaz, his team and the company as a whole.
“What I’ve seen from my staff in the past two to three weeks is toughness and resilience. Everyone is putting in the hours,” he says. “We’re lucky that we have staff with many different skill sets.
“They have been sharing a lot of positive feedback from our customers. It gives everyone confidence that maybe we can get through this. Maybe, we’re going to get back on our feet again.”
Despite completely changing his business model, Kaz reinforces that they are still doing what they do best – food. But instead of serving corporates, Pomelo + Online is bringing restaurant-quality meals to people’s homes.
“We’re delivering home meals and fresh produce, and doing meat and seafood platters. We are trying to cater to families at home and corporates working from home who don’t have time to cook.”
The reaction from employees and customers has been positive. Kaz says everyone is excited. “It’s the mindset as well. Everyone wants to work. They’re also positive about this new offering – they all believe in it,” he enthuses. “Customers are saying the meals are substantial and affordable.”
Kaz established Catering Project in 2015, with a focus on corporate catering. “We were ranked in Australia’s top 40 businesses, which was great,” he says. “We were competing against leading commerce brands, software companies and advertising agencies. It was good to be up there.”
Bowery Lane was Kaz’s first love. It is where his journey started six years ago. The cafe and restaurant primarily welcomed the corporates for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Then, Kaz started Pomelo & Co, a premium event company that organises weddings and events, corporate functions and boardroom meetings.
Evidently, having a long-term outlook and plan is difficult in the current climate. “It’s hard to say how we’re going to continue to grow, but during this lockdown, we’re shifting our focus back on the business and working on what we know how to do,” Kaz highlights. “No-one knows what’s ahead. We’re staying as positive as possible.”
Valuable lessons can come from times of uncertainty and hardship. For Kaz, it has been to not to put all your eggs in one basket.
“We’ve been focusing on the catering business for the past five years. I’m learning to diversify our business, not just catering to the corporates but also to families, everybody out there,” he explains.
“No-one knows what’s ahead. We’re staying as positive as possible.”
“I looked at this business a few years ago and thought that this is the idea we should be focusing on. We should be going to the sports clubs, the families, and trying to cook meals for them as well. But we’ve been so busy the past five years. It’s gone so quick.”
Lastly, as a hospitality professional staying afloat through quick action and diversification, Kaz says that this experience has shown him two things: resilience of his staff and loyalty.
“Loyalty is a crucial factor,” he says. “I just hope to get back on the road again and get all these guys their jobs back. It’s tested everyone.”
For menu and delivery options visit the Pomelo + Online website.