When Covid-19 shutters restaurants – either temporarily or permanently – a butterfly effect of hardship ripples outward. Jobs vanish. Demand for produce drops. Growers, farmers, winemakers and more are all affected, as are designers, transport and logistics companies, and other businesses that keep the industry running.
And then there are those responsible for the small details that make restaurant dining so special, such as small-batch ceramicists. In Victoria especially, most of us are eating from our own plates at home – or out of takeaway containers – right now.
Kingsley Wong, a freelance restaurant marketing and social-media consultant based in Melbourne, lost 75 per cent of his business when the pandemic struck. Over the years he’s formed relationships with local ceramicists (through selecting tableware for his clients’ restaurants), and he realised their livelihoods, too, had all but vanished overnight.
So in June he launched an online store called Tojiki Room, where he sells new, custom-made ceramic products that allow ceramicists to use up leftover raw materials and continue plying their trade.
“We started Tojiki because [ceramicists] were completely wiped out; everything stopped. Existing orders from restaurants were paused and the clay was just sitting there for a few months before it had to be thrown away,” says Wong. “Everyone was just waiting for restaurants to reopen.”
About 10 items are available at any time, but Wong hopes to add new products and makers soon. A set of chopstick holders shaped like little dumplings ($20) by Room23ceramics consistently sell out during pre-order. Also by Room23: speckled grey mugs and octagon plates with soft corners (from $40). Volcanic-ash-coloured side and dinner plates (from $50) are by Sharon Alpren, who’s made pieces for Cutler & Co, Royal Mail Hotel and Mörk.
There are also glazed bowls with subtle swirl details ($55) from Too Friendly Ceramics, and Wong is especially excited about Merrimu Studio joining Tojiki in October. You might have spotted its goods at Lake House, Embla, Lesa, Anchovy and Gaea.
Wong says that not only are ceramicists making money through the store, they’ve also experienced an increase in direct sales.
As for those chopstick holders: a new pre-order of 200 pieces will go live on Tuesday August 11. Delivery is scheduled for late October, once stage-four restrictions lift and the ceramicists can access their studios again. It might seem like a long wait, but, as Wong puts it, “these niche makers only have one pair of hands”.
Tojiki Room’s website is set to go live this week, but you can browse and place orders on Instagram now. Shipping is available Australia-wide.