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
When you hear the name Jad, you instantly think Lebanese larrikin and one-third of Matty, Sarah Marie and Jad from Gogglebox.
But what you may not realise is that Jad Nehmetallah is a small business owner with a lucrative restaurant called The Picnic at Burwood in Sydney’s Inner West.
When I got on the phone to chat with the 34-year-old about how his small business is faring during the global coronavirus pandemic, I was instantly in awe of his passion for his restaurant, for food, and above all the inspiring community that he has built.
Nehmetallah, like many, has been on an emotional journey in the past month.
On March 24, he took to his Instagram, informing his customers and fans that he had made the decision to temporarily close The Picnic.
“In line with the government guidelines and the current situation, I don’t feel comfortable with putting my staff in a position of risk and encouraging the community to be outside,” he said.
A mere few weeks earlier, the restauranteur had promised that he wouldn’t be closing; however, under the current circumstances, he had no choice.
“What I’m saying might sound contradictory to a video I released a couple of weeks back, but it’s upsetting to see how hard the virus has broken out,” he said.
With the option by the Government to keep takeaway open, Nehmetallah decided he wasn’t “comfortable” doing so because they were still encouraging people to leave their houses and put everyone at risk.
So, he decided to come up with a new plan.
“I was in day seven of isolation, and I was thinking, I’m sick of ordering meals and I’m sick of going to the grocery store because it’s dangerous and because I’m working all day, the last thing I want to do is cook,” he said during our chat.
“So, obviously, everyone is starting to do meals and takeaway options from their existing menus, but I wanted to go a different way and kind of help out the community.”
With this, Nehmetallah and his staff started The Picnic At Home — a home delivery menu made up of hearty, fresh and nourishing trays from their kitchen to your door.
Here, the restauranteur tells TheLatch— all about the initiative and what you can do to help support it.
Anita Lyons: Hi Jad. I love this idea! How did you come up with the concept of The Picnic at Home?
JN: The Picnic at Home was born from me looking around the kitchen of the café and trying to understand what the Prime Minister had just said, that we could only keep takeaway open.
It’s each to their own, a lot of people still have a takeaway — but for me, I was like, we need to create some form of business where we can come to them, and it’s not too much of a risk.
So, I started thinking of what my mum would cook when I would come back from school. Homecooked casseroles, lasagne, one-pot meals — and I was like, that’s it! That’s what we’re doing. Trays of food to target families. That’s it.
I’m not doing meals, everyone is doing meals, and we’re just helping out families, and I’ve been delivering them myself, wearing gloves and a mask.
“I started thinking of what my mum would cook when I would come back from school — and I was like, that’s it!”
AL: How has the response been so far?
JN: We’ve had a really good response. I was responding to four or five hundred people just through DM [direct message] and emails and putting together orders through emails and messages.
We didn’t even have a PDF of our menu at first. It was all through texting, and we were still working out what we were doing as such. I was responding from 7.00am to 2.00am, responding to hundreds of enquiries and people just asking questions. This was when I said to the guys that we needed to automate it and give it a name — all this while I was responding to everyone. It was just getting out of control.
We’re getting responses saying “thank you so much, you f–king helped us so much”. A lot of our customers are people who don’t want to go to the grocery store, or have no time to cook.
AL: You seem so community-minded. What is your main focus during this time?
JN: Our main focus is and has always been, to help. The thing is, there’s no money in it. It is purely to help the community to stay home and to keep our staff employed.
Everyone has been so receptive to it. I’ve personally donated my funds and we’re encouraging people to pay it forward. We’re entrusting that others will also donate.
With the pay it forward initiative, you send a gift card to a friend or family in need. Once we receive your $50 or $100 donation, your gift card will be sent to your friends or family via mail, and they will use a discount code at checkout.
I don’t know if you know much about me or if you’ve been following me for a while but I come from humble beginnings. I try to help as many people as I can and provide a lot of value to people for nothing in return. I just am who I am I live by, if you do good then good will come to you.
“I try to help as many people as I can and provide a lot of value to people for nothing in return. I just am who I am I live by, if you do good then good will come to you.”
AL: The food looks incredible — my mouth is salivating over that salted caramel tiramisu. What is the concept behind what you’re producing?
JN: The trays are all healthy and nutritious. There’s oven-baked lasagne, roasted vegetables, a burger kit and lemon-roasted chicken and of course, the salted caramel tiramisu.
And we’re going to keep adding. We’re going to do a pasta bake, we’re doing a big cauliflower bake over rice, and they’re made on the same day and delivered on the same day.
AL: How far do you deliver to?
JN: Around the 12km radius, so pretty far!
AL: Just going back to the beginning with your restaurant, The Picnic, can you tell me a little about it?
JN: I came up with the concept myself, and it’s four years old. We’re a very established restaurant in the Inner West. Pre-coronavirus we were very busy, and we offer a beautiful, diverse brunch menu with a Middle Eastern Mediterranean twist. We also have a little bit of an Asian influence. We’re not really tied down to a cuisine. We’re very diverse.
We’re focused on flavour and I’m a bit of a foodie, so everything that gets put on the plate has its own distinct flavour. You can eat a tomato in a salad and that tomato would be drenched in a lemon olive oil with its own spices. Every element on our dishes is hand-spiced and hand-dressed. Nothing is ever just left as it is. It’s all seasoned. I’m very big on flavours.
AL: In the last year, what have been some of your major wins?
JN: I’ve secured a location in Parramatta Park, it’s over 200 seats and it’s not going to be called The Picnic.It’s 450 square metres and it seats over 200 people, potentially with two venues in one. So, you’ve got a café deli and a restaurant and event space broken up by a central kitchen. So that has been a huge win, getting that sorted.
We also launched new menus and people have been really receptive to it which has been unreal and we’ve also hired some really good staff. But of course, we’ve had some tough times as well.
AL: So, before the global pandemic, what was 2020 going to mean for you?
JN: I closed off 2019 knowing that I was super pumped for 2020. It sounds good, Paramatta is coming and I’m in a good headspace, Burwood was doing its own thing but, do you know what was funny? In the back of my head, I had the feeling though, that 2020 was going to be a year of humbling. It was just an intuition I had.
I was noticing things going on in the world and everything was just going by really quick with the construction boom and social media and I just felt like people were losing control of the simpler things in life and what was important. Businesses were expanding rapidly and everyone felt like they were untouchable. I was just getting that vibe that the bubble was about to burst and then this [coronavirus] happened.
So, as bad as the coronavirus is, I’m almost really glad that it happened.
When everyone is at rock bottom, they start to evaluate what is truly important and they begin to flush out unnecessary things and relationships.
“I just felt like people were losing control of the simpler things in life and what was important.”
AL: That’s such an interesting take and I completely agree with you. Life will never be the same again after this. So, now that you’ve shut down normal trading, how much of a financial loss is this for you?
JN: We’ve essentially gone to nothing. It’s done.
AL: What steps do you think you will take to make up for this monetary loss?
JN: To be honest, I want to work on the cosmetic perspective. Clean it up, refresh it, put a new team together and obviously build on the team we already have, but I want to give some opportunities to people out there who have never had those opportunities before.
When we re-open [The Picnic] we want to thank the community for its support and do a grand re-opening, free coffees all-day — just to let people know we’re back and things are good.
We also just want to open the brand new venue with a bang!
AL: How do you think that the global pandemic has changed you as a business owner?
JN: I’ve always been resilient but this has actually tested me to a whole new level. But from my perspective, it’s really been a blessing.
I’ve always wanted to add an e-commerce range to my business. I’ve always wanted to sell my relishes, my jams but I’ve always put it on the back-burner because of time and other commitments, so coming out of this, I’ll now have the opportunity to have a whole new revenue stream and I really want to build on that.
Plus, I’ve also learned about people’s behaviour and what they really, really want from hospitality. I think that people have overwrought everything too much and have been such perfectionists with every detail like is it the right crockery? But, what this has allowed me to realise is the simplicity of humble, good customer service. Good old humility.
I just want to focus on what hospitality really is, good service and good food. The old school vibe.
“I just want to focus on what hospitality really is, good service and good food. The old school vibe.”
The current health crisis is evolving rapidly. If you suspect you or a family member has coronavirus you should call (not visit) your GP or ring the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.