Anyone who’s ever been to South Australia knows, is not just about the rolling hills and valleys or Barossa or McLaren Vale. Or the sweet notes of the Shiraz grape. It’s equally about the vibrant urban food scene.
In the final week of March, restaurants were forced to close indoor dining in due to the pandemic restrictions. The owners of Soi38 - one of Australia’s top Thai restaurants.
knew they would have to act fast, if they were to survive. They also knew that others in hospitality were hurting just as much. Ultimately, this proved to be smart thinking.
“We originally opened our doors in 2014, as a street food restaurant that offered a takeaway model. But in 2018, our business undertook a renovation and redesign. Reopening as a regional Thai restaurant, with a menu focused on seasonal and ethically sourced ingredients, and recipes that have been researched and collected from historical sources, ethnic minority groups and ‘family books’ from all over Thailand.”
“We had not done any takeaway since our renovation and refit, so we prepared for an uphill battle shifting our service model if we were to stay afloat. So, we shut momentarily as restrictions tightened, and that gave us some space to think about how to reinvent ourselves, without the pressures of running service and balancing our family (of four) at the same time.”
Since other establishments were struggling too, Soi38 made a bold call with an equally ambitious strategy. “We teamed up with one of our wholesale distributors, and a couple of other chefs from South Australia to start a ‘heat and eat’ delivery service called Chefs on Wheels. This service enabled us to start a recipe box system that gave customers a taste of Soi38 in their homes, while they couldn’t venture out and enjoy Adelaide’s dining scene”.
“Although I felt uneasy, I soon became excited about what the challenge could present to our business, and how we could mould our restaurant into a business that could work for us during this time.”
Soon enough, Soi38 reopened, selling the most popular dishes from their menu as part of the new delivery business called Chefs on Wheels.
“The response was humbling. As we began offering this new, diverse version of our Soi38 brand, we began to see new customers introduce themselves. We also gained the support of new suppliers, and found our community became strong and unified. Our industry also became stronger for it.”
“The pandemic and restrictions laid upon us, and challenges we all faced as a hospitality industry, affirmed to me that the days of protecting your knowledge and only looking out for yourself, and your own business interests are over.”
“An industry that is diverse, supportive and made up of businesses that support each other - which includes referring guests and customers to your peers when you don’t have what they’re looking for - will ultimately, help lift everyone up and pay off in ways you would never expect.”
“Our transition from a bustling dining service, to a ‘heat at home’ model, allowed us to see what our small business ‘could be’, and let go of the pressures around what other people thought for us.”
“By not confining ourselves, we were about to think about how we could quickly take our business off the beaten path, and on a road less travelled.”
On June 3rd, Soi38 re-opened – their recipe boxes so popular that these will now remain as an option to heat at home.
What’s on the Menu:
Daisy Miller’s top 5 tips for SMEs:
- Acknowledge your business is not perfect, yet always strive for perfection. Being aware your business has room to improve will allow you to be more flexible and open to change, particularly during times of crisis.
- Always remain open to new ideas and remember you don’t have as much reign over your business as you think you do - there will always be external elements that you can’t always control.
- Ask support of your industry and be prepared to work collectively. Particularly in times of great need.
- Don’t confine yourself and your business. Remain ambitious and be ready to sometimes take roads less travelled.
- Continue to question yourself and the way you do things. Questions like ‘Why do we do things the way we do?”, “What would we change if we were faced with another pandemic?” and “What can we do to better support and strengthen our business and our industry?”, will better prepare you for challenges to come.