Cafe thrives despite density limits

New decor at La Baguette Cafe.

By Jamie Salter

Berwick’s La Baguette Cafe is proving hospitality businesses can thrive despite ongoing Covid-19 disruptions as customers flock to the newly renovated business.

Owner Mush Rahaman put Victorian Government business support packages towards cafe renovations as well as operating costs like rent, staff salary and utility bills.

He said government payouts helped keep the business afloat throughout the coronavirus pandemic and ever-changing restrictions placed upon hospitality venues.

“My customers are of an older population so they weren’t coming in, but they were sending me cards and support and I knew they would come back,” Mr Rahaman said.

“That’s when I decided to invest into the business.”

Renovations were completed during the last lockdown between August and October and Mr Rahaman said the investment doubled the value of his cafe.

“I did a little bit of changes every lockdown – the first was the toilets, then the kitchen equipment, then upgrading dining areas, and finally painting and artwork,” Mr Rahaman said.

“The pandemic came to us as a curse but I turned it into a blessing.

“I took every opportunity the government and the bank gave us to survive because what was to come could have been worse than what we had already been through.”

Part of the upgrade included an increase in the cafe’s outdoor seating capacity to combat density limits.

“People now prefer to sit outside for their health and safety, so I’ve extended the outdoor seating area and added umbrellas and timber fencing so it’s safer and more comfortable for the customer,” Mr Rahaman said.

As of Friday, 7 January, density limits of one person per two square metres were introduced indoors at hospitality venues, including cafes.

Mr Rahaman said his business was well prepared for the new changes.

“I never complain about government limits, it’s for the benefit of our people,” he said.

“We need to stick together and be strong throughout this nightmare until the sun comes up again.

“Lots of old customers are coming back and new customers are looking for a regular cafe to visit.”

Staff member Mahsa Larimi has worked at the cafe since May 2021 and said it looked new and improved after the recent renovations.

“When customers come in the first thing they say is ‘look at your pictures, look at your flowers, they’re very nice’,” she said.

“It’s really good for customers because whatever we make, we spend on the business – which makes everyone really happy.

“If we didn’t have that money from the government we wouldn’t have been able to handle the impact of the coronavirus.”

Since reopening following the most recent lockdown, Mr Rahaman said the cafe has been making the same amount of money as it once did – before anyone heard the name ‘coronavirus’.