Small businesses struggle to survive

Staff from both restaurants with their boards during a protest in Durbanville.

The Covid-19 pandemic has driven many small-business owners into survival mode, forcing them to find other ways to make sales and keep the lights on.

Phil Gelman, who owns Caterkid, a Kirstenhof catering and events company, is one of them. He has opened a Coffee Truck just outside his business to stay afloat.

“With the lockdown restrictions, my business was pretty much stuffed, as the events side was dead,” he says. “No one wants to hire stuff during this time, and I needed to pay rent, so I took an old vintage truck that I had and converted it into a coffee truck.”

His “side hustle” has made it possible for him to pay his two staff at least 75% of their usual salaries from July 1.

“I had to think outside the box, people can’t go and drink wine, but they can still reward themselves with a cup of coffee.”

He has past restaurant experience and is familiar with coffee making, so he bought some data for his employees so they could watch YouTube videos on barista work.

“We then did a short simple course at Shakers (Shaker BarSchool and Events) in town when the restrictions eased. The good thing about this lockdown is that it’s given us time, time to teach ourselves fun stuff. We’re actually really enjoying this new business.”

Elaine Rousseau, owner of The Homestead, a venue-for-hire heritage building in Plumstead, has also had to adapt to survive the lockdown knock-down. Most of her business fell through because they rely heavily on events and functions.

“We had to look at the other part of the business, which is Food Fanatics, the catering side,” she said.

They redesigned their business website and included an online shopping system for customers to buy meals online and have them delivered.

“Everyone’s now doing the same thing with the online shopping during lockdown so we decided to offer customers something extra,” Ms Rousseau said. “We have this beautiful surprise box every Friday, which has a themed meal and one gets to choose whether they want a vegetarian, poultry or red meat option. You can also add a dessert. It’s doing well, we’re looking after about 60 people every Friday. We have an Indian theme this Friday.”

Food Fanatics also offers a two-course Sunday lunch.

Ms Rousseau said her 10 employees were receiving their salaries on a sliding scale throughout lockdown. She said she had been open and frank with them and she was very fortunate to have understanding staff.

“We are independents, and we need to start looking after ourselves, we can’t stand in the government queue forever, it’s a really long queue.”

Angela Hendricks, the spokeswoman for All Rounder Cricket Academy in Kirstenhof, said their business had been stumped out at the start of lockdown.

The academy started 14 years ago and offers school and private coaching.

Ms Hendricks said they had fortunately sold their indoor cricket facility in Ottery before lockdown. Their new facility in Honeywell Road, Kirstenhof includes a sports centre as well as a cricket shop, which has helped to raise sales again. The cricket shop sells cricket gear and has a coffee serving station.

Ms Hendricks said the shop had helped them pay their seven full-time staff and 30 casuals.

“We had a raffle to raise money for our staff where we sold some of our old equipment. Some of our guys are Zimbabwean and have to pay rent and take care of their families.”

The business also held online coaching over Zoom to keep going.

“It was very different,” Ms Hendricks said. Her husband, Wayne, who founded the academy, set up a cricket net in our backyard and roped in the couple’s children to help with the coaching.

Ms Hendricks said they hoped that they could go back to their usual coaching format soon now that lockdown restrictions were easing.

Finance and Economic Opportunities MEC David Maynier said small businesses in the province had taken a beating and his department was doing all it could to support them.

“Entrepreneurs in the Western Cape have shown great resilience during the Covid-19 crisis, and we remain fully committed to supporting them to open up safely and responsibly during the Covid-19 crisis,” he said.