ADAPTING: Staff from Lolita’s Cantina at Casuarina, part of the PLB Group, (back row) chef Riley Jones, barista Bridee McCloy, chef Dave Brittingham, owner and chef Lia Mason with (front) manager Toby. Photo: Scott Powick
ADAPTING: Staff from Lolita’s Cantina at Casuarina, part of the PLB Group, (back row) chef Riley Jones, barista Bridee McCloy, chef Dave Brittingham, owner and chef Lia Mason with (front) manager Toby. Photo: Scott Powick

Reality of COVID-19 impact on Tweed’s hospitality industry

AS AN employer of about 130 hospitality workers on the Tweed, the coronavirus's blow to business for PLB Group was initially devastating.

But thanks to diversifying operations and the JobKeeper program, the business was able to hire back about 60 staff.

Now running a mixture of takeaway options, home delivery and online ordering across their six eateries, operations manager Toby Bamford said it was a long, hard road back to pre-pandemic status but the company was doing everything in its power to adapt.

Heartbreakingly, new business Lolita's Mexican Cantina in Casuarina was just days away from its official opening when restrictions were put in place.

"We had done our soft opening trials and were putting the finishing touches to the dining room on the weekend everything shut down," Mr Bamford said.

"Opening a restaurant is a lot of time and energy … but it is exciting to see the locals getting behind the online version we have opened in the meantime. It is an avenue of revenue and income we didn't know was sitting there for us.

"For example, last weekend we did 180 Mother's Day packs and we used to do 180 people a night in the restaurant and now we served 180 people at home."

Other adaptations meant partnering with another local business instead of going ahead with a planned expansion to take them on as competitors.

 

ADAPTING: Staff from Lolita’s Cantina at Casuarina, part of the PLB Group, (back row) chef Riley Jones, barista Bridee McCloy, chef Dave Brittingham, owner and chef Lia Mason with (front) manager Toby. Photo: Scott Powick
ADAPTING: Staff from Lolita’s Cantina at Casuarina, part of the PLB Group, (back row) chef Riley Jones, barista Bridee McCloy, chef Dave Brittingham, owner and chef Lia Mason with (front) manager Toby. Photo: Scott Powick


Baked at Ancora in Tweed Heads bakers were preparing to launch their own bread into the wholesale market.

"The virus wiped that off the table for us," Mr Bamford said.

"So instead we turned off the ovens and joined forces with another Tweed company, Bread Social. So we are proud to now use their bread in our venues and sell their product."

Mr Bamford said one of the challenges was looking after staff on visas.

"It's very difficult because they just got missed … they are here to be part of our workforce and contribute more tax than others to do that, they are a skilled labour force and a fundamental part of our team," he said.

"We have had to be creative to keep in touch, make sure they have things like enough food to survive as well as a sense of family, community and support."

Mr Bamford explained for the moment the group's restaurants would not reopen under the 10-person rule.

While he admitted it was great for some, to cover the cost of operating their eateries they would need to do more like 50-60 people to break even.

"We are going to wait and not going to rush into it, to make sure we get it right," Mr Bamford said.

"We want to get the whole experience right as well. People want to know you have changed the way you do things so they are safe in the space."

The PLB Group operates

  • Pastry Bread Espresso and
  • Baked at Ancora in Tweed Heads,
  • Taverna and Bombay Cricketers Club in Kingscliff and Osteria and ­Lolita's Mexican Cantina in Casuarina.


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