‘We’re Playing It by Ear’: How Dish & Spoon Café Are Adapting To New Restrictions

Jul 13, 2020

“We will work to the bone to make sure it doesn’t get away from us.”

Frank, who co-owns the popular Dish & Spoon Café in Camberwell with his wife Eli, acknowledges that the new wave of COVID-19 restrictions will be tough on his – and other – hospitality businesses across Melbourne.

But, they made it through earlier restrictions, and he is optimistic they’ll be able to do it again.

“Dish & Spoon Cafe is our livelihood which supports our family, and the last thing I [want to] see is for business to drop because of the lockdown,” Frank says.

“We will work to the bone to make sure it doesn’t get away from us.”

Established in 2016, Dish & Spoon Cafe offers high quality, restaurant style food in a café setting. All of their chefs have worked in restaurants, with two having been awarded Michelin stars.

The family business had 15-20 staff working “on any busy day” pre-COVID-19, and most of their customers come from around the area. However, Frank says some of their customers venture from other suburbs, as far out as South Morang, in order to enjoy their food, coffee and service.

“We are a welcoming café [and] we try to treat everyone like family. The food we provide is different to the usual offering, not just your average smashed avocado or eggs benedict, and while everyone claims to do specialty coffee, we pride ourselves on that,” he says.

“There is a tight-knit community around here, people regard us as their local and will come in to have a chat. We love to get to know people – learn names and build connections – not just because it’s our job, but because we love what we do and we love this industry.

“We have support from the community, and they don’t want to see us shut up shop because of the scenario we are in.”

Homely, Warm and Welcoming with Value for Money

When the first round of restrictions was introduced in Victoria, Dish & Spoon Café quickly changed the way they were operating.

While the transition from dine-in to takeaway service for coffee was not a significant issue, they had to work out which dishes would convert well for takeaway service.

They designed a takeaway menu which had a “more homely feel to it,” and included offerings such as chicken, vegetable and toasted sandwiches, a Vegan Essentials Plate, croissants, burgers, a ‘build your own breakfast’ option and a kids section.

They also introduced a $20 per person Sunday Roast: the most recent version being a chemoula roasted and preserved lemon chicken with garlic, sumac potatoes and carrot with tahini yoghurt, and pistachio cake for dessert.
It turned out to be immensely popular.

Image: @dishandspooncafe

“Our plan was to [keep] it homely, warm and welcoming with value for money, and that is exactly what happened. We made it work, and it was more popular than I thought [it would be],” Frank says.

“[In particular], the Sunday Roast makes people feel good, and allowed the family to gather over a meal.”

After restrictions were eased in Victoria, they continued offering roasts as part of the dine-in service.

Frank also found that many customers had a greater appreciation for the dine-in experience.

“Customers supported us through takeaways and, when we first opened for dine-in, the response was huge. It wasn’t a quick meal and leave, but [an attitude of] ‘let’s really enjoy it,” he says.

“We saw that on the last day of dine in [before the new wave of restrictions were introduced] with customers saying that they couldn’t wait to visit us again.

“[Dine-in] has been taken away, but I think customers will enjoy [it even more] after the lockdown is complete.”

“We Have Done It Before; We Can Do It Again.”

Amid new restrictions, Dish & Spoon Café will continue evolving in line with changing circumstances.

They have retained their takeaway menu, with Frank saying they will potentially add to it or change it depending on customer preferences.

“During the first lockdown, on Mothers Day, [we] provided high tea and breakfast-in-bed packages which were a massive hit. We had to adapt to what people wanted and needed,” he says.

“Over the next couple of days, we will play it by ear, see what people are ordering and [go] from there. But we don’t have to change too much from the first lockdown, as our menu is solid straight off the bat.”

While Frank is concerned that customers may be more cautious about going out this time around, he says there is still a strong emphasis on shopping local, and supporting businesses in the area.

“People are very aware of the constraints on small businesses, and they want to support their local, which is great,” he says.

“That won’t change [and we] will continue on.”

An initiative of Fine Food, Hospitality Unites is the voice of the foodservice industry, dedicated to sharing the collective experiences and solutions to thrive in a post-COVID economy.

Have something you would like to contribute? See how here.

To keep up to date with the hospitality industry and Hospitality Unites, subscribe here.

  • Get articles delivered to your inbox
  • Subscribe
Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now