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Local Heroes

On 12 January this year, NOMAD restaurant and head chef Jacqui Chalinor brought together more than 50 of the best chefs and restaurants in Sydney to raise $150,000 for ‘Cook for the Bush’ to help those affected by the bushfires. The show of solidarity and the deep desire to support those doing it tough – from both sides of the pass – was a shining example of how a small idea can make a huge difference. Our favourite hospitality haunts are now struggling due to the lock down and we can all help them make it to the other side. A small thing – like ordering a NHSP from Schwarmama or donating the cost of a beer to keep live streaming going – can make a big difference. Let’s rally behind the small business who contribute so much, to safeguard the kind of neighbourhood we want to see as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. Here are 4 amazing local initiatives to get you started.

Paramount House #stilllocalstillopen:

Paramount House is, in its full glory, one of the most exciting places in the city. A subterranean bar and cinema, a pumping café that people queue – nightclub-style -to get into, a heavenly boutique hotel with Hotel-of-the-Year bragging rights (Gourmet Traveller 2018), a coworking space with office-of-the-year credentials (World Architecture Festival INTERIORS 2017), and the transcendent rooftop recreation club, terrace and kiosk, all wrapped up in an Art Deco architectural landmark of the Hollywood era. Behind closed doors the Paramount team had been busy curating a local guide to Surry Hills, an uber-chill Paramount playlist for keeping your cool during COVID and even daily Zoom fitness classes to get you bouncing around your living room. Best of all are their value-packed double-your-money “Neighbourhood Passes”, offering quintessential Surry Hills eating, dining, and cultural experiences in a “buy now, play later” voucher. We spoke with Paramount House Hotel Marketing & Communications Manager Aimee Bayliss about these initiatives.

NT: Aimee, the #stilllocalstillopen campaign is a great way to remind people to support their local now – and be a friend with benefits later when restrictions lift. Can you give us any fly-on-the-wall insights into those initial meetings when the restrictions had just come in.

AB: Hospitality is in our DNA and so it was really hard to watch the venues in our neighbourhood struggle with the changes and restrictions that were happening so fast. Initially, we wanted to put together a ‘neighbourhood crawl’, similar to the progressive dinners of the 70’s where you would work your way around the neighbourhood, enjoying individual courses/drinks/dishes at different venues throughout the night. However, this was quickly adapted to a voucher to buy now (spend whenever) as the isolation restrictions became heavier. The restaurants, cafes, bars and creative businesses are the backbone of our community and the industry that enriches life in Surry Hills for residents and those travelling to the neighbourhood. The ultimate fear was that some of these businesses wouldn’t survive, we would lose some of the best parts of our suburb and all the staff that make them so special. The #stilllocalstillopen project was a way of bringing awareness to the industry that was being hit the hardest and a little way to support the venues and the staff that work in them in these tough times to make sure they are here for us on the other side

NT: How did you decide which incredible F&B businesses would feature?

AB: One of the priorities was to make the voucher affordable so we chose 10 venues, our direct neighbours and some other friends and favourites within the industry who we had been talking to throughout the changes. We set the project up to be scalable with a view to help businesses in other cities too – the web design and back-end are simple enough for any hospitality business to use and our designer created universal iconography that could be used for a number of different businesses.

NT: Are people still coming to the hotel? I assume no-one was lucky enough to be quarantined there right?!

AB: While a lot has changed people are still coming to the hotel, though now we’re finding all our guests are quite local due to the travel restrictions. We’ve found that we’ve become a nice little escape from this new reality of working from home so we’re getting guests who need a break from their own homes and/or kids. We’ve also been really lucky to have a lot of our guests come for a night to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries or any type of special occasion. With restaurant closed for dining it has become a nice option to make the night still feel celebratory while complying with all the current rules and regulations.

NT: What has been most successful in the transition to online and arms-length?

AB: We’ve found that people have been really supportive by buying gift vouchers for future stays and by supporting our #stilllocalstillopen initiative. We have been lucky to be able to digitalise some of our favourite services – such as our neighbourhood guide which is now available on our website. It’s a collection of our favourite things to do in the neighbourhood with an adapted Covid version; our staff picks for restaurants offering takeaway and delivery, our favourite drinks from local bars that can now be drunk at home and our recommendations for virtual activities.

NT: Paramount House has been (and will again be) a food/fitness/entertainment/destination for so many.  How critical are these places of gathering to our local cultural identity and individual psyche?

AB: Paramount House is more than the sum of its parts, it’s the collection of like-minded businesses and the variety of people they bring into the building that make it so special. We are social people, we seek community and share life as we share space. The building provides the neighbourhood and the city with a different kind of space in which to work and play. At the same time it fosters community connections and offers a gathering space for travellers and locals alike.

Handpicked Wines

If you ask me, savouring a triple trophy-winning* Tasmania Pinot Noir alongside a Le Conquerant Camembert with a group of friends on a Saturday afternoon – while listening to live music in a corner of Handpicked Wines’ stunning urban cellar door in Chippendale – is one of life’s simple pleasures.  All senses are engaged and merge to create a varietal of Sydney’s good life. While this seems a distant reality in COVID times it’s closer than you think. Tap into Paramount House Hotel’s play list, invite two adults (plus or minus their kids!) and jump onto Handpicked Wines website to order wine and cheese, charcuterie and even caviar. It will be delivered to your door – all in under 3 hours if you live within 25km of the Sydney CBD.  We dare you to just scroll through their pantry without clicking ‘add to cart’! The Cellar Door, a beautifully refurbished warehouse at the start of Kensington Street near the old Clare hotel and Spice Ally, is the heart of the Handpicked Wines business,  a mecca for creative wine experiences and unexpected pairings (think wine and yoga, and academic ménage-a-trois panel discussions!). With doors closed, Global Marketing Manager Imogen Hayes explains how the team has pivoted their offering to keep us well stocked in wine and cheese during the time of COVID.

NT: Imogen, you have won awards for HPW’s creative marketing strategies.  What was your initial response when the news first hit that the Chippendale cellar door needed to go into hibernation mode?

IH: My immediate concern was for the staff and the community we foster through that venue. We are fortunate to have retained five permanent staff who are packing and delivering online orders and basically doing their jobs online by running virtual wine tastings and offering wine advice to all our customers. It’s such a challenging time for the hospitality industry so it’s great to see so many people still shopping local and supporting the multitude of great businesses through takeaway and delivery options.

NT: Some ideas are a natural progression – taking wine tasting classes online for example. But how did you come up with the novel idea of a personalised video message for orders >$100, or a DIY Wine Flight?!

IH: I cannot claim responsibility for all of this! It has been a combined effort between our cellar door team and our marketing team. Everyone has been pitching in with great ideas and it has been very collaborative. We noticed a massive trend in gifting and we wanted to offer something different from all the other wine delivery services. It’s a great time for people to send care packages or birthday gifts and the small touches we notice really make a difference. The cellar door also wanted to ensure that we were replicating all our existing offers online, where possible. We jumped on a few ideas early and worked frantically right at the start of COVID and I think that definitely made an impact.

NT: Let’s look forward to happier times when you can open to the public again – what’s your dream concept for a killer re-opening event?!

IH: You know I love to throw a party! With Handpicked I’ve done 70s discos with rollerskates, marching bands, rooftop wine weddings, fashion runways and last year a Kath and Kim Chardonnay fest. Dancing will be mandatory and there will be plenty of glitter. Dream wise – I would love to do something fun with some of the amazing talent through our partnerships – maybe something with Opera Australia and some of their artists? Opera Drag and a massive long table super opulent wine tasting with our top Pinots.

NT: What percentage of turnover was online revenue before COVID?

IH: This was previously not a huge focus for cellar door – around 5% to 10% of revenue.

NT: How much has online trade increased currently compared to pre COVID?

IH: It’s increased from what it was 600%.

NT: That’s incredible. How is the public responding – what are they engaging with mostly?

IH: Gift packs are working well as is the wine and cheese delivery – we have a 25km delivery radius and same day delivery so we are reaching new areas and new customers. We just launched a Sam Studd Cheese and Wine gift pack for Mother’s Day and it has already started to fly! We will be launching a new offer next week which is a private Zoom class with a sommelier for orders over $250 – we hope this will work really well too for people who might want to learn something new while in iso.

NT: And lastly, in wine terms, a year is a very short time – tell us how the rest of the HPW business is operating.

IH: Vintage and COVID hit at the same time – off the back of the fires it’s been a very tough year for the wine industry. Our winemaking team couldn’t stop so they basically locked anyone off the property who wasn’t doing vintage, kept the crew of four people really small and basically isolated and worked crazy hours. We have a few different wine markets within Asia and USA so all the markets vary depending on their own COVID response and situation. We are all working from home and looking at new and imaginative ways across the business to continue to educate people about great Australian wine while we can’t travel. We’ll definitely be taking some of the cellar door ideas and seeing what we can replicate in different countries – with video its boundless.

Surry Hills Live

In June last year Surry Hills Live was awarded a $10,000 City of Sydney grant to help a new program of live music events to takeover pubs around the area.  The COVID-19 crisis has hit our musicians hard – as well as the communities they inspire and entertain. Yet staying connected by the power of live music is more important than ever. With the support of NFP Music for Trees and digital marketing agency JJ Splice, the event pivoted from a small council-funded live music promotion project into a full-scale weekly live streaming initiative. And the response has been huge. Surry Hills Live streams have entertained more than 10,000 people since kicking off in March, supporting countless artists by providing paid gigs when so many other opportunities of musicians have disappeared. The line-up is impressive (Cody Dillon, Jesse Squire, and August Auzins) and the experience of watching live performances – even by livestream or catching up video – is captivating.  We encourage every Surry Hills local and live music supporter to tune in every Thursday night from 7:30pm, order in from one of your local restaurants and chip in the cost of a beer to keep this wonderful initiative going.

Darlo Darlings

Described as a one-stop-2010-shop the Darlo Darlings Facebook page is a group for locals to connect with neighbours, network, share concerns, news and community information and ask for recommendations or advice. Mike Galvin is the founder of Postcode 2010 Facebook Group, Darlo Darlings and Vice President of the Surry Hills Creative Precinct. He is a proud local who loves Darlinghurst and Surry Hills and the Shop Local movement. Together with the community, Mike has worked on several initiatives that support small business owners during this challenging time. We spoke with Mike about how the people of Darlinghurst and Surry Hills have rallied together during COVID-19 to support one another’s local businesses.

NT: Mike, what do you love about the ‘hood? How is it unique to other parts of Sydney?

MG: The community culture in Darlinghurst and Surry Hills is authentic, creative and relaxed, it’s a culture that belongs to the people of Postcode 2010. After living in both Surry Hills and Darlinghurst I wouldn’t live anywhere else in Sydney. Postcode 2010 is vibrant and authentic and I absolutely love it. We truly have the best neighbours who genuinely look out for each other. I feel fortunate to live amongst these amazing people and our awesome local business community.

NT: With most retail, food and beverage and cultural offerings forced into hibernation what has been the impact both on the streets of your beloved suburb, and also to the people behind these businesses?

MG: The people of Darlinghurst and Surry Hills are inspiring neighbours who look out for one another and they have rallied together during COVID-19 to support one another and local businesses. The hardest part of COVID-19 for me has been the impact on my neighbours who have lost their jobs, small business owners who have lost their cash flow, the impact on our theatre community and our homeless and marginalised who have been impacted by the social distancing measure. It is time now to prepare for COVID-19 recovery. We all need to be part of this and rebuild our great city.

NT: What are some of the ways businesses are reinventing themselves?

MG: Small business owners are the kings and queens of reinvention. With every business impacted in such different ways, those who have been able to have quickly designed new offerings, product variations and new online services to respond to customer needs. We’ve seen everything from market stalls through to creative home delivery services from local restaurants. Our arts and creative sector has also been reimagining their craft. For example, entertainers like Trevor Ashley are developing live cabaret streaming. The Stonewall Hotel live stream on Saturday night is another great example. And of course all the virtual gyms classes that are available. This innovation and adaptability will create opportunity as we move into the COVID-19 recovery stage.

NT: Tell us about the resilience of Postcode 2010.

MG: Where to start… I’ve personally seen and heard first-hand the heartbreak during this period. Not only from local business owners but from neighbours who’ve lost their livelihoods. As we have moved through these last few weeks the resilience and determination to get through this period has been nothing short of inspiring. There have been so many offers of help posted in our Darlo Darlings Facebook Group. We created a space for neighbours to offer help to others which filled up quickly. Darlo Pantry was created to help provide food fast to those who needed it most. There are so many examples of creativity that has helped others during this period. The way in which locals worked for free for local businesses was particularly inspiring.

NT: What is the best way we can support these businesses?

MG: Two words. Shop Local. This is always important of course but now more than ever we need to support independent businesses. Likewise, for local business owners, the more they source goods and services locally the better this will be for the local economy. We have a great brand, and amazing options. Buy direct and not via channels that cost businesses huge percentages of their profit. Speak to your local business and ask them how you can best support them. Locals should shop locally because they want vibrant retail strips, because they want great service and because they want our Postcode to be the absolute best it can be. 

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