Andrew Clapham talks with Michael Dearth about his initial responses to Covid-19 with his two restaurants “The Grove” and “Baduzzi”.
At the Wine List we like to leave the opinions to the experts, here are two expert NZ hospitality professionals Michael Dearth and Andrew Clapham having a chat about current COVID-19 preparations and the levels. (17April 2020).
Andrew C: We heard from Jacinda today some guidelines for people as to what level 3 might look like when we get there, could you tell me your thoughts of what this might mean for you and the industry. After that, with the demands of social distancing, how do you manage, I mean, you can’t get more floor space so you will naturally have a reduction in bums on seats?
Michael D. We are scrambling, we are trying to find a viable business model in the post lockdown period as we are not a takeaway company. I have 70 staff over two outlets, and this is a challenge. We are all basing our life’s work on a moment to moment basis. We are going to have to roll with the punches.
Andrew C: Michael How do you go to contactless ordering and how will this work with distribution, in a contactless way?
Michael D: We’ll communicate through social media and through our website and everything on how people can pull into Jellicoe street and have their order. We can leave it out on a table right outside the restaurant with their name on it. And that way there is no face to face contact.
Deliveries are the same thing, like The Restaurant Association’s announcement is you can, as long as you have that social distancing, where you’ll be able to deliver it, verify that they’re picking it up at a safe distance and then you can move on your way. We have a lot of people on our database between the two restaurants, we’ve been communicating with our customers. We have relationships with media and we’ll just try to talk to people that we know in the industry. IF someone rings me with a pre-prepared, say a meal for a family of eight from Dairy Flat, I’d probably bring it out myself.
We’re going to hustle, we’re just going to hustle and just get our name, you know, get out there. We do have people that have been calling us and following us go “when are you open, when are you opening?” So, we’re just going to be communicating via social media and our, our current database.
Andrew C: Will your menus work this way?
Michael D: The Grove is going to be “Comfort food at The Grove”, we’ll focus on meals like Beef Wellington, Confit Duck, Braised Shortrib… 50/50 Mash Potato with like lots of butter, that sort of vibe. Baduzzi is pretty straight forward with our meatballs and pasta… We can do a crème brulee for the Grove, the Tiramisu for Baduzzi, if desserts are popular we’ll do a cannoli.
Andrew C: What about your mobile truck?
Michael D: If I can interpret the current law with level three, I can’t use it because it can’t be face to face. So I kinda can’t rock up and set up a stand. I think that’s more level two, but once I can do it, I’m going to be in Point Chev. I’m going to set up with whoever will let me do it because people do like it and it has been successful; in Point Chev, we’ll be flat out all day, and the kids love our meatballs.
Andrew C: We talked earlier about vacuum-packed stuff.. Are you still thinking of doing things I can take home and heat up in the microwave…?
Michael D: First of all, the answer is going to always be yes, I want to be hustling. So we’re going to have some menu items that we’re going to develop, some of which may be pre-made. Then we could send them to you warm and then you can finish it with a starch on the side. Same thing with Baduzzi. I think people are just going to test our market and if some people are going to want to have a tray of a pasta bake, we’ll do that. But we will have a set menu at both places. Probably that lends itself more to braised meats and richer sauces and that sort of vibe.
Andrew C: Are you in agreement with what the New Zealand government has done in terms of the level fours level threes, even though it’s been difficult for you?
Michael D: I do support the hard stance, it’s a necessary step that we had to take.
Andrew C: How much of your business is going to be affected by the lack of international tourism?
Michael D: There are times when the whole dining room at The Grove has been full of people from the US or China, its certainly going to have an effect. Baduzzi has a more local clientele, it has a lower price point and more of a casual vibe. So for The Grove we have a new market.
Looking at when we get down to level two and future, the future of the Grove, I mean fine dining in general in the world is and has been hanging on for the last few years since the GFC. I think now focusing on the local markets, we’ll probably open Sundays and maybe close Monday and Tuesdays for example, I want the family. I think we’re going to be forced to do more a la carte and comfort food. I’d still pursue excellence but would go after those classic French dishes, but a home sort of comfort sort of way.
Andrew C: If we go to level two, you’ve got to have social distancing of one meter or two meters, Baduzzi is a pretty intimate sort of environment when you’ve got all the tables full, right?
Michael D: Yeah. I mean you’re talking about an element in the dining experience, that energy that you create, the buzz that people love. And that’s what one of the things that people love about Baduzzi. But when the main body of the restaurant is half full it’s still a really nice vibe, and the food will be awesome. Our survival, I think now more than ever, will be about service and value in the spaces we have.
Andrew C: in the old days we would have thought that doing takeaways would have probably damaged your brand, if we return to pre Covid days could this could be a positive for you and that you will now, you know, figure out delivery and all the rest of it?
Michael D: The industry is forever changed. The world’s forever changed and I think we’re going to have to adjust and adapt to it. We’re going to try things and some things will maybe fail and we’ll learn from it hopefully and adjust and do new things. But even before Baduzzi opened I loved the idea of working differently with the businesses around; being surrounded by ASB, Air New Zealand and Fonterra and all these corporates. I wanted to be able to make some fresh pasta and some of our Baduzzi sauces or the eggplant parmigiana for them. I was always super keen to have The Grove and Baduzzi so you can sit down, but also, if you wanted to grab and go something then you could, but we’re just so damn busy, we never had time to evolve to that. We have a person making fresh pasta from six in the morning till’ late in the afternoon. So now, yeah, absolutely. I want to try to bag it up and sell it or do deliveries.
Andrew Clapham has a 34-year career in hospitality and a wide-reaching knowledge of the industry. His experiences range from operational management of a day to day hospitality business, greenfield site development, international pub management and development, multiple site ownership and management, Joint venture with multi – nationals, board governance and an overriding passion for the Hospitality. Andrew has worked in sales roles within the industry from wine, to operational kitchen equipment and bar fit-out. Andrew has four years of Corporate experience with Air New Zealand where he was the International and Domestic Lounge Development Manager through to DB Breweries where he worked as a Business Development Manager. Andrew then became self-employed and started a long career of ownership of gastro-bars and was a founding Director of the Barworks Group now known as Joylab.
Michael Dearth owns The Grove and Baduzzi restaurants in Auckland with his wife Annette. They are easily one of Auckland’s top restaurateur couples with a unique approach to both food and service. With a passion for and expertise in the industry, owners Michael and Annette Dearth have gained outstanding recognition. Michael and Annette moved to New Zealand from the United states after working in San Francisco. They love calling New Zealand home and are very proud of both The Grove and its sister restaurant Baduzzi. Michael’s influence is apparent throughout the wine list with interesting and obscure cuvée from all over the world and here in NZ.
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