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. Like many hospitality venues around the country, it had to stand down staff as the government restrictions limited its trade to takeaway.
While these measures will help 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, “because 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.
Holders can redeem the passes for the remainder of 2020. “Buy it now but spend it whenever,” says Elan. “Come and cash it in any time after all this is done.” Support offered now, she says, will help 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,” says Elan.
“Even being able to talk to other businesses and see what they’re going through” has been helpful, 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,” says Elan. “Most of the people who have bought the pass are local to Surry Hills, which is so generous and kind.”