Melton cafe owner survives six COVID-19 lockdowns only to have two cafes listed as exposure sites

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Cafe owner Bob Barbar has lived through six lockdowns, and now two of his family-run businesses have been listed as exposure sites in Melbourne’s latest COVID-19 outbreak.

It is getting all too hard.

Mr Barbar runs the Jolly Miller Cafe in Melton, part of a family chain of 14 eateries across Victoria.

His cafe was listed as a tier 2 exposure site on the weekend. His cousin runs another The Jolly Miller Cafe in the Caroline Springs Square shopping centre, which was declared as a tier 1 site.

Yesterday, we had our worst day of trade,” he said.

“We have lost a lot.

“We have thrown out bread … a lot of our sweets, our fruit and veg got dumped out.”

To make things harder, some of his staff have had to isolate because they visited Caroline Springs Square shopping centre, forcing his business to shut its doors for longer.

On Thursday, Jobs Minister Martin Pakula announced $367 million in additional support for businesses hit by Melbourne’s extended lockdown, jointly funded by the Commonwealth and Victorian governments.

But Mr Barbar said there had been long delays before the previous lockdown payments arrived.

“The support means nothing to me until I receive it,” he said.

“Lockdown number two … that was in July last year. I only received [the money] in the last week of lockdown number four, which was June this year.”

Mr Barbar said he was just making do with the help of the community, his landlord and his staff.

“None of the bills are being paid,” he said.

“We are just breaking even with wages … and when I bounce back after the lockdown, I will pay my suppliers, the landlord.”

Melbourne west has become a COVID-19 hotspot, with several exposure sites emerging in the area.

The Jolly Miller was listed as a tier 2 exposure site on August 8 after COVID-positive person visited on August 4.

“The person came in for a takeaway sandwich,” Mr Barbar said.

“They were in the store for less than three and a half minutes and then we got a phone call Sunday evening [telling us what happened].”

‘Running a very fine line’

Normally, the cafe can accommodate just under 100 people, but with density limits in place, there has been room for only 65, including those dining outdoors.

Now open for takeaway only, Mr Barbar said some days it was not even worth opening the business.

“When you come in for a takeaway, you buy a $4 coffee,” he said.

“If you are dining in, you buy a plate of food, you might get a muffin from the fridge.”

Mr Barbar said it was scary to be part of a COVID hotspot.

“Every day,  I am waiting for a phone call from DHHS (the Department of Health and Human Services) to see whether we [have been listed] as an exposure site, just to know whether I am closing … am I ordering for the next day,” he said.

“We are running a very fine line with our ordering at the moment. If you order it and you get shut down, [there is a] lot of wastage.”

“It’s been hard. It’s been difficult, but I am very grateful because we have a lot of community support.”

Money to reach more than 100,000 businesses, jobs minister says

Mr Pakula said the $367 million in additional support should reach more than 100,000 businesses across Melbourne.

“We are very grateful for the ongoing spirit of cooperation in which the Commonwealth is approaching the matter of business and income support,” he said.

Mr Pakula said the money, which would mostly be distributed automatically to businesses that had already qualified for support under existing funds, fell under the following three categories:

  • The Commonwealth’s COVID-19 Disaster Payment, which is open to eligible workers across the state who lose hours due to the lockdown, along with sole-trader businesses which lose work and do not qualify for the Victorian government support programs
  • The Small Business COVID Hardship Fund, which will offer grants of $10,000 to small and medium-sized businesses across the state. It will be administered by Business Victoria and is focused on businesses legally allowed to operate but under heavy restrictions
  • Automatic payments of $2,800 to more than 95,000 metropolitan Melbourne businesses through the Business Costs Assistance Program and automatic payments of up to $20,000 to eligible businesses in the Licensed Hospitality Venue Fund

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(Original ABC Article)