How a Tiny Restaurant in a Tiny Town Is Thinking About the Future

Without small business, we’re nothing. TheLatch— and GoDaddy have teamed up to rally behind local businesses and entrepreneurs during this unprecedented time of change.

We’re speaking to small businesses and entrepreneurs across the country to better understand how they’re adapting to stay open, how they’re keeping their community safe, and how we can support them now during this time, and beyond. We’re focused on keeping Australia open for business, even if doors are closed. #OpenWeStand

In a small street, in a tiny town called Stanthorpe in QLD, is a restaurant called Essen. Re-launched in September 2019 by its new owner Clarissa Pabst, in a few short months, the restaurant has dealt with drought, bushfire, and the coronavirus. But for owner and head chef Clarissa, it’s not an excuse to give up, but rather push ahead and re-think what the future could look like.

The restaurant focuses on home-style cooking, prepared with love. It strives to provide delicious, wholesome food using with the freshest local ingredients that highlight the region’s best growers and artisans. And with that, it made perfect sense for the restaurant to refocus its business, and offer home-cooked meals for its customers to take away and heat up at home.

Each week, updates are made to the website, which Clarissa created using GoDaddy’s website builder, to highlight what’s on the menu for the week (this week it includes lasagna bolognese, spaetzle carbonara bake and crème brulee… when should I reveal to my boss that I’m moving to Stanthorpe?). Customers simply call the restaurant — if you’re a local, the number is (07) 4681 4254 — and leave a message with their order.

We spoke with Clarissa to learn more about the family-run restaurant, and how it’s thinking about the future.

TheLatch— Let’s start from the very beginning for people who might not know about your business. You only launched in September, correct?

Clarissa Pabst: Yes! We started because we’ve always loved coming to the restaurant, ourselves. I happened to be really good friends with the ex-owner’s sister. We went to school together and I grew up in Stanthorpe. Like most people do, I left and came back about 10 years later. The opportunity came up to take over the restaurant because they were leaving to go and do something else.

My husband decided that he wanted to become an electrician, so he started doing an apprenticeship. Then I was wondering what to do with myself. I’m a trained chef and there’s not that much going on in Stanthorpe. So we were like, “Oh wow, this is the perfect opportunity to do something for myself.” So we proceeded with purchasing the restaurant.

TL: It’s been a wild few months since you launched — it’s not easy for the hospitality industry right now. How have you been navigating these past few months?

CP: We noticed people weren’t coming down to Stanthorpe as much in early March. It’s a quiet time now anyway at the moment, for tourism, so we were already slow and then we were like, “OK this is really interesting. Business is really slow.” A week went by, and then we were told to close.

“The opportunity came up to take over the restaurant.”

TL: So what did you guys do? What was your immediate plan, or how did you pivot your business and change your offering?

CP: In three days, we completely flipped everything on its head. We decided we’re opening from eight o’clock in the morning until six o’clock at night. We’re doing coffee and cake during the day to take away, and we’re preparing meals for people to take home and reheat or bake themselves in the evening.

It means I can run the restaurant with just my mum. She’s also a chef, and she was front-of-house manager when we were open to customers. That was the best way we could keep going and provide for our little neighbourhood.

“In three days we completely flipped everything on its head.”

TL: How important has the community spirit been?

CP: Everyone in the community has been incredibly supportive. People come every day for coffee. Even if it’s just a coffee, they come and they’re like, “How’s it going?”. They have a chat and it’s really nice, and everyone does that for each other.

On our days off, we go down to our favourite cafe and get a coffee from them, and try to support the shops that are open as much as possible. Everyone’s trying really hard to keep it going.

TL: What advice do you have for other small business owners for getting through this time?

CP: I would say don’t be upset that everything has slowed down so much, because everybody is experiencing this at the same time. Don’t try and make a crazy profit right now. Just get through it.

“Don’t try and make a crazy profit right now. Just get through it.”

TL: Do you think that the way you operate your business will be changed for good? Do you think that offering take-home meals will become something that stays in place?

CP: It may do, because a lot of people have said, “You know that we would totally do this on a normal day?”

It just depends, because we’re a small business, really small. So basically before we changed over to doing this, we just had myself and my mum as the only two permanent employees, and then I had a chef and a couple of juniors helping on front-of-house.

So anything extra that we do, is extra out of our time. So I don’t know. It’s going to be really interesting going back to being an operating restaurant with customers, because there are all these opportunities for growth. It’s just a matter of getting the staff and right people in place. We want to grow consciously and sustainably.

We don’t want to be greedy. We just want to grow at our pace, and we want to offer things the way we envisioned them to be.

“We want to grow consciously and sustainably.”

TL: How easy was it to update your website and advise customers of your change in menu each week?

CP: It’s been awesome. So, so easy. Launching the whole website with GoDaddy has been easy, actually. I couldn’t have had a better experience. I’m doing all of the website stuff myself, and I had to learn that and learn how to do all of my marketing.

Not that I have to do a lot, but it was a little bit daunting having to do that. I went on the GoDaddy website and it was literally just click this, click that, add that, done. I was like “Oh, that’s quite easy!”.

TL: Thank you so much for your time Clarissa. You’ve got a really beautiful website and all your branding is really, really beautiful.

CP: Thank you.

TL: I wish I lived closer. Everything you have on the menu this week looks so delicious!

CP: Haha, thank you!

If you are in or near Stanthorpe and feeling hungry, visit Essen to view the menu, and call (07) 4681 4254 to place an order.

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