No one could have predicted that “how to survive a pandemic” would be the critical question for hospitality venues in 2020. As soon as the Covid-19 restrictions were announced in late March, the team at Paramount Coffee Project in Surry Hills went into problem-solving mode. “We tackled it really quickly,” says Eden Elan, Paramount Coffee Project general manager. “We built an online ordering website within the first 24 hours, so by Wednesday it was up and running.”

The cafe added a pantry-style service to its offering, selling staples like milk, eggs, flour, yeast, sugar and fresh produce, as well as LP’s Quality Meats sausages and house-made items such as garlic butter, vegan dressing and green salsa.

While these measures helped Paramount Coffee Project stay afloat, the Surry Hills cafe wanted to do more. “We have so many friends in hospitality, and everyone around us was suffering,” Elan says. “We wanted to help ourselves, but we also wanted to help others and didn’t know how to do it.”

It was at a meeting of Paramount House tenants that the #StillLocalStillOpen concept was conceived. “We had this idea for a restaurant crawl around Surry Hills, and how fun would it be if you paid a fixed price for a ticket and you could hop between all our favourite venues in the area,” Elan says. “We approached a few businesses, and everyone was keen.”

The idea quickly evolved into a longer-term pass. “We figured it’s quite a lot of food and drinks to have in one night,” explains Elan. They settled on two options. The $150 Neighbourhood Pass, which has a retail value of $300, includes offers from Chaco Ramen in Darlinghurst, Ester, Golden Age Cinema and Bar, Lankan Filling Station, Nomad, Poly, Reuben Hills, Shwarmama, Tio’s and Paramount Coffee Project, whose contribution is a breakfast dish and coffee. The $300 Overnight Pass, valued at $600, includes all that, plus a night’s stay at Paramount House Hotel.

The concept quickly caught on, with vouchers selling out by July. Holders can redeem the passes for the remainder of 2020. “Spend it whenever – come and cash it in any time,” Elan says. It’s this valuable support, she says, that helps guarantee the participating businesses will still be around in 2021.

The goal is to not to make a profit, Elan says, but to help pay the wages of staff who would otherwise be out of a job. It’s a concept that Elan hopes other neighbourhoods adopt in their efforts to ride out the Covid-19 restrictions. “The idea is for it to be scalable,” she says. “If other areas want to organise one, we can help them. For us, the idea was always to expand on it and make it bigger and more inclusive for everybody.”

The sense of community that drives #StillLocalStillOpen has served as a source of strength for Elan in what is an incredibly difficult time. “Everyone knows each other, and all the businesses always help each other out – even before all this happened. We’ve always had a great relationship with Tio’s and Nomad, who’ve had a very tough year and have been very supportive of us,” Elan says.

Being connected with other businesses and knowing what they’re going through has been helpful too, she says. “There’s so much reassurance knowing that you’re all in this together. Having that support – you can’t put a price on that.”

Crucially, support has also come from the residents of Surry Hills, who have embraced #StillLocalStillOpen. “It’s heartwarming to see the local community wanting to support their favourite restaurants,” Elan says. “Most of the people who have bought the pass are local to Surry Hills, which is so generous and kind.”

This article is produced in partnership with City of Sydney. Follow and use the hashtag #sydneylocal on Instagram for more local secrets.