Cafes in Sydney’s suburbs boosted by coronavirus pandemic as people stay away from business centres

Cafes in Sydney’s suburbs boosted by coronavirus pandemic as people stay away from business centres

It’s a warm feeling — a barista at the local coffee shop remembering your name and order.

And, with plenty of people working from home, it’s the sort of familiarity that’s increasing in Sydney’s suburbs.

Just ask Luke Garcia Bantatua, whose Coffee Drs cafe in Hornsby has never been busier.

“My business has been booming, since the beginning of COVID-19 we’ve actually had the opposite effect, we’ve almost tripled in sales volume from before the pandemic hit,” he said.

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“Locals are stuck at home all day and want that daily walk for coffee — so with a few places closing their doors in the area — they’ve found us in this little corner.

“I’ve met so many locals who never knew we even existed.

“It’s something no-one would have foreseen, the rise of the town.”

Bags of coffee beans on a table
Luke Garcia Bantatua turned the interior dining space of his cafe into a retail area where customers can taste the coffee beans and go through products.(ABC News: Mridula Amin)
A man stands stacking coffee bean cylinders
Luke Garcia Bantatua roasts his own coffee and supplies it to other cafes like Dane Ross’s.(ABC News: Mridula Amin)

Data from transport app Citymapper revealed people in Sydney have slashed their travel significantly this year.

Last week, levels numbers of trips planned in the Citymapper app (pubic transport, walking and cycling) were down 40 per cent on pre-pandemic levels.

Google mobility data shows visits to places of work in Australia has reduced by 18 per cent on September 6, compared to a baseline in the first five weeks of the year before the pandemic began.

The number of people in Australia staying at home on Sunday, September 6, compared to a Sunday before the pandemic, has increased by 7 per cent.

That shift has manifested in different ways around Sydney, and business centres like Chatswood and the CBD have been hit hard.

Dane Ross’s cafe in Chatswood sells the exact same beans as Coffee Drs, but he hasn’t seen any new customers, despite his business being flanked by seven apartment towers.

a man preparing a coffee in a cafe
Dane Ross prepares a mocha at his cafe — he’s seen a huge drop-off in his customer base as less people work from offices.(ABC News: Mridula Amin)
a street showing apartment blocks
The residential towers that surround Dane Ross’s business in Chatswood. They are largely owned by internationals instead of domestic residents.(ABC News: Mridula Amin)

“We thought we’d just convert our office-worker heavy focus to locals but it was surprising,” he said.

Mr Ross estimated the residential buildings in his area, which is a hotspot for foreign property investors, were only 30 per cent full.

His cafe — named Apothecary Coffee — is open Monday to Friday and was popular with white-collar workers, many of whom were based in several large Government offices nearby.

“We’re down 50 per cent in revenue now but having said that we’re trying our best to pivot and keep taking care of the locals we do have,” he said.

Liza Chehade’s Parramatta cafe, Homage Specialty Coffee, is also open only Monday to Friday.

She says her business, in Sydney’s geographical centre, has managed to capture a new market amid the pandemic.

“The business seems to be back where it was pre-COVID,” she said.

“Parramatta was a ghost town during the first lockdown but in the last three months it’s picked up.

“We’re seeing more locals than ever who haven’t known we were here.

“Most of our market was corporate or the building industry considering we don’t open on the weekends but now we’re seeing that change.”

Liza Chehade (one with curly black hair) Bianca Scarcella (other woman)
Liza Chehade, right, and employee Bianca Scarcella, left.(ABC News: Mridula Amin)
Two guys sit beneath a car park in Parramatta on a quiet street
Homage Specialty Coffee sits beneath a car park in Parramatta on a quiet street(ABC News: Mridula Amin)

According to Australian Bureau of Statistics data 2016 census data, 45 per cent of people who live in the Parramatta local government area commute to work on public transport.

However, Transport of NSW data shows patronage for opal trips has plummeted by more than 50 per cent in the coronavirus pandemic.

Ms Chehade and employee Bianca Scarcella say Parramatta’s CBD has gained a community feel, as more locals stay put.

“It’s a really weird time but we’re all in it together in experiencing something so different — so having a community cafe with a vibe like we do it engages people to tell them they’re not alone,” Ms Scarcella said.

“One customer got us a gift when he returned to the office because we brightened his mornings when he was depressed working from home – and he just said it was a nice feeling to start my day off with you girls.

“I don’t think he expected to find that during this time.”

the outside of a coffee shop with people at a table behind the window
Customers enjoy a coffee at Apothecary Coffee on a quiet street of Chatswood.(ABC News: Mridula Amin)

Luke Garcia Bantatua put his success down to several business decisions, including investing in his website to take online orders at higher volumes, and renovating the inside of his premises to create a coffee bean tasting station and retail space.

He is also focusing on service.

“It’s not enough to just take an order, you need to know what their life is about, what they’re going through,” he said.

“They’re not coming for just coffee. When they’ve had a rough day this is where they come.”


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