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Parkhurst restaurants battling Covid-19 and load shedding double blow

By Sameer Naik Time of article published Sep 12, 2020

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For years, the Jolly Cool bar and restaurant on 4th Avenue in Parkhurst has earned a reputation as one of the most popular hang-out spots in Johannesburg.

Before lockdown, it was near impossible to get a table at the hangout spot, with students flocking to the bar on week days and nights for a quick beer or a pizza. Today the restaurant is near empty and unrecognisable. It’s lunch time on a Wednesday and there are just two customers.

While he’s not used to seeing his restaurant so empty, owner Alastair Bishop is grateful for the few customers. “Having two people here is better than being closed. I'm grateful and so are the staff.”

While Bishop is optimistic and says that business has increased slightly since the easing of restrictions in level 2 of the lockdown, restaurants like Jolly Cool have still been battling.

“We as business owners have've accepted responsibility for what needs to happen, and we're trying to do the best we can.” He says the lockdown has crippled his business, as it has many others on the popular 4th Avenue strip.

“The impact is obvious. We lost an immense amount of turnover. We're one of the lucky few that managed to get UIF. It's a massive personal loss for me. The impact financially was horrific, and without finances you aren’t able to run a business, and without business our 26 staff lose their livelihoods.

“The scariest part is that the staff have nowhere to go because we’re all in the same boat. So we had to do what we had to do to save their livelihoods and families.”

Aside from having to deal with restrictions, Bishop and other restaurant owners have had to deal with regular load shedding by Eskom. While he has a generator, he says it has still impacted his business.

“Load shedding is a massive problem. Unfortunately a generator has to be part of your cost when setting up your business. But having one is not full proof. Last Friday our generator didn’t kick in when the power went off at 8pm, our busiest time. It took a few minutes to start up but a lot of the customers had walked out by then, so it has a terrible impact.”

While business is dreadful on weekdays, Bishop says his restaurant gets busier on the weekends, but not nearly enough to sustain his business.

“We're already seeing a bit of a pattern where people aren't spending as much as they used to, which is understandable. People have been hit hard financially. On weekdays business comes to a grinding halt.

"While we're thrilled with business on the weekend, we can't run a business just from the turnover of the weekend.”

Over at the Taphouse restaurant on 4th Avenue, there is not a single customer. Manager Andile Nyoni says it’s been this way for weeks, despite the easing of restrictions.

“It’s been really bad. Right now we're still struggling. Our staff are at home and waiting to come back. But there's no one to serve.”

Here there are also barely any customers during the week. “We get a little busy on a Friday and Saturday. Even then, we have to limit the customers due to social distancing. The curfew has been a massive issue. We have to close at 9pm. And that’s when everyone wants to come out.

The Taphouse, known for its wide range of draft beers, are also having to hold back on their selection of beers due to finance problems.

“Before, we had a wide variety of drafts available but since we can't afford to pay the suppliers upfront we've had to cut back.”

Nyoni has also personally suffered during the lockdown. “I stay in Berea and it costs me R110 to get a taxi to Parkhurst one way. I don’t make any tips on the weekdays, so all that money comes out of my own pocket.”

At popular eatery Rockets, they face a similar battle. “It has been devastating,” said Jefrrey Nyoni, manager of Rockets.

“We've been contributing to UIF for years and now that we need it, we are declined. They have stolen the money, that's why we are not getting it. We have families and livelihoods to maintain. It’s just a battle.”

Jeffrey says his boss has done everything to try to help employees during the lockdown. “He has done his best. When the UIF money wasn’t forthcoming, he gave us vouchers.”

Load shedding hasn’t made things any easier. “We are now incurring extra expenses, like the fuel to run the generator. There is no break for us. The conditions are incredibly difficult.”

While weekends have been a bit better than weekdays, Rockets still battle on a weekly basis. “On weekends it’s been fairly busy, but it’s not like before and we are restricted to numbers and a curfew, so business is not the same.

“We are very grateful for our loyal customers who support us. But we cannot expect customers to splurge as they are in the same situation as us.”

Lebanese eatery Liban Café on 4th Avenue, say they too have been hit hard during the lockdown. “When alcohol and tobacco was banned it really affected our business," says manager Hannah Moyo.

“Alcohol makes up 70% of sales. It killed us. We are also a shisha (hookah) bar and people come to smoke and chill. Since the alcohol ban was lifted things have looked up, but it’s not the same.”

Moyo says it was crucial for them to retain all their staff. “We didn’t retrench anyone. We managed to fit everyone in on a schedule and put all our staff members on half salaries. We had a rotating schedule so that all our staff worked and managed to get a salary.”

Restaurants say they are now waiting with bated breath for President Cyril Ramaphosa to remove curfews and allow them to trade as normal.

The Saturday Star

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