Sydney cafe owners battle staff isolation requirements and a cautious public

Sydney business owner Sina Klug (left, with co-owner Jacques Dumont) calls for government financial assistance to help businesses managing staff shortages. Source: Supplied

Hospitality businesses banking on a hot vaxxed summer have been forced to reduce services, saying the past few weeks have been ‘worse than lockdown’.

For Sina Klug, who runs a Sydney-based doughnut and cafe business, 2022 is off to a rough start. Already, 15 of her 22 staff have contracted COVID-19 and gone into isolation.

On top of the staff shortages, her business Nutie Donuts has been crippled by the breakdown in food supply chains.

“Half the emails I'm receiving are out-of-stock emails from suppliers. We’re not getting fresh fruit for our bakery items or vegetables for the cafe,” she told The Feed.

“This period is worse than lockdown. Our takings are down 50 per cent and there are days when we don’t cover wages - at least during lockdown we had wages subsidised.” 

Currently, people who are close contacts of Covid-19 cases can return to work in non-public facing roles in hospitality provided they have a negative rapid antigen test (RAT) result and no symptoms. 

Sina Klug outside her doughnut business in Sydney.
Sina Klug outside her doughnut business in Sydney.

Sina told The Feed this would include people such as delivery drivers and pastry chefs in her business, but it does little to ease her anxiety.

“Being a vegan and gluten-free bakery a lot of our customers are immunocompromised so we need to put their safety first, and I know our non-public facing staff don’t want to be responsible for making our customers sick.” 

On 14 January,  NSW recorded its deadliest day of the pandemic, with 29 deaths and 63,018 cases. 

The state has been regularly recording tens of thousands of cases every day.

Lana De Angelis (left) and her wife/business partner Nicolette Lewis (right) and Ruby Lonesome manager Lisa Smullen (centre).
Lana De Angelis (left) and her wife/business partner Nicolette Lewis (right) and Ruby Lonesome manager Lisa Smullen (centre).

Sydney cafe owner, Lana De Angelis told The Feed that due to this surge in cases she, in consultation with her staff, decided it’s best to only open for take-away.

“There is no customer traffic for dining. Since reopening we’ve had a lot of community support for the decision we’ve made,” she said.

“Only one or two customers have shown up looking to eat-in at the cafe since the start of the year, everyone is fearful of catching Covid.” 

She told The Feed that isolation requirements for staff have also played a role in reopening her cafe, Ruby Lonesome, for take-away only.

“Hospitality is vulnerable, because a lot of the front-of-house staff are university students, living in share houses, so if one person gets covid three to four others will also have to isolate,” she said. 

“A quarter of our staff are currently isolating, as a result our sales are worse than in lockdown.

Lana De Angelis
Lana De Angelis.

“I’d like to see a return to the financial support measures that came with lockdown as what we’re doing now is unsustainable.”

NSW Minister for Hospitality and Racing, Kevin Anderson, told The Feed he is aware of the staffing shortages facing businesses.

“That is why we have adopted the nationally-consistent principles for the definition of a close contact and isolation periods for COVID positive cases, to give employees and businesses certainty, help them stay at work and get others back to work,” he said.

“Support payments which are still available include the Commercial Landlord Hardship Fund which provides a monthly grant up to the value of any rental relief provided for small commercial or retail landlords, to a maximum of $3,000 per month per property.”

So essentially, if a landlord provides rental relief to tenants, the government will come through and cover it up to a certain value.

Lana said she’s expecting the next four to six weeks to be very tough, as the Omicron wave reaches its peak.

“No one has a rainy day fund left anymore, if you were fortunate enough to have one two years ago, it's gone, everyone is running on fumes financially and emotionally,” she said.