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How a Sydney restaurant went online in a day to keep the cash – and spaghetti – flowing

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Vince Pizzinga, co-owner of Sydney’s spaghetti and spritz bar Mark and Vinny’s
Vince Pizzinga

Across Australia, few remain unaffected by coronavirus; a pandemic that is changing the way we live and work. Businesses of all shapes and sizes have been forced to act rapidly, and identify ways to remain operational and engaged with a customer base who are almost exclusively quarantined from home.

One of the worst hit industries is hospitality, with restaurants, bars and cafes across Australia forced to close their doors and focus on take-out only. For many businesses, the transition is far from easy, but for tech-savvy businesses who were quick to pivot online, the change has been more manageable.

We spoke to Vince Pizzinga, co-owner of Sydney’s spaghetti and spritz bar Mark and Vinny’s, about how his business has been affected, and how their adaptable approach can help them navigate the coming weeks and months.

First, tell us a little bit about the backstory of Mark & Vinny’s and how it came about.

Mark (Fillipelli) and I opened Mark & Vinny’s in Surry Hills, Sydney at the end of April almost two years ago. We’d met in LA when I was living over there in my previous life as a musician, and Mark was a known restaurateur. We both had a passion for food and taking on new challenges.

When I decided to move back to Australia, I convinced him that I’d be a good person to jump into business with because of my hunger for innovation. It was the creation of my vegan egg that got him over the line, and everything just progressed from there.

Vegan egg? We need to know more about this and your appetite for creating more vegan-friendly establishments.

When I was living in LA I was first introduced to vegan eating through my partner. I was impressed with the amount of variety that was actually available to consumers of a fully plant-based diet there, that was just something that I hadn’t seen yet in Australia but I knew there could be demand for.

Mark and I actually opened our first business Matcha Mylkbar in Melbourne, which is more of a cafe-style set-up and has a completely vegan menu. When we opened Mark & Vinny’s, we wanted to create a bit of a mix so while more than half the menu is vegan, we do have some classic meat options available too. We wanted to stick to a simple theme.

Spaghetti and spritz came about because who doesn’t love spaghetti and spritz? Most people would consider pasta a pantry staple but there is just so much that can be done with it. We wanted to show how creative vegan food can be. It’s vibrant, delicious and fun — and our menu definitely reflects this.

The business really picked up quickly, but can you tell us how your way of working has shifted over the past month?

Yeah, absolutely. We had a really great start with the business, we were very fortunate that we had a lot of buzz and interest in the restaurant from the get go. We have loyal customers, and great referrals through them, so we were always blessed with being busy through bookings, and never really had to worry about all the order ahead apps.

Obviously, the past month has been a total shock for the business world, especially those in the hospitality sector who have had to quickly change the way they run their business and the tools they use to be able to stay open. Over the past few weeks we’ve had to let go a number of staff members because we just didn’t have enough business to keep them on, which is really hard.

Thankfully, we are now getting a bit busier with our online store now live and running, so I can keep the team members that I still have busy.

How did you pivot to online so quickly and what tools are you using to do this?

We’ve been relying on the tech platforms we use within the business to do this. Luckily we always used tech-savvy business tools, so the transition for us has been easier. We’ve used Square’s cloud-based payments system since we started, and we also use their restaurants software and analytics tools.

They helped us add a Square Online Store to our account in a matter of days, which featured our full menu and the ability to let customers order online and choose between curbside pick-up or delivery. We are also working with a bunch of delivery partners, like Deliveroo, Doordash and Uber Eats to get our offering out to as many people as we can. We’re promoting our new services through social media and relying on our loyal customers too.

How has it been going so far?

Honestly, I was surprised how much traffic we actually had come through the online store the first couple of days after we launched. It’s not like a normal trading day for us but it’s definitely better than the alternative, it gives us a lifeline during this time to ensure cash flow doesn’t halt completely.

Do you have any advice or tips for fellow business owners at this time?

Like everyone I’m feeling anxious and a little unsure about what to do to get through this. The best strategy I have come up with to cope is just to be open to new ideas, flexible to change and not overwhelm myself by looking too far ahead. The goal posts are changing every day so I need to be able to reassess my priorities at any given time.

Most importantly, however, the key to getting through this is to be generous and compassionate to others, it’s in everyone’s interest to lift each other. Be patient. Be patient some more. And, of course, wash your hands!

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