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The COVID-19 pandemic may have robbed us of Friday night drinks in our fave dimly-lit bars, but your rowdy night at Mary’s, or those Friday burgers you treat yourself to, are still within reach.
In the time of isolation, the team at Mary’s are working through a period of adjustment, just like every other small business, and especially within the hospitality industry.
Right now, the good folk at Sydney’s favourite burger joint are working to deliver hungry patrons their cherished menu items, with a side serve of the friendly Mary’s spirit that ensured their success in the first place (from a safe distance, of course).
We caught up with Mary’s co-founder, Jake Smyth, to find out more about the ways Mary’s is “keeping the candles lit” through this time of temporary adjustment, and how he envisions the restaurant will be changed for good in a post-COVID world.
Katie Skelly: Jake! Tell me about Mary’s and what gets you out of bed in the morning.
Jake Smyth: Mary’s opened in 2013 on a backstreet in Newtown. It’s a no-fuss burger joint; we play the music we want to play, we drink the wine we want to drink, and we created a menu around the most simple and delicious foods that you can eat without getting full, so you can keep drinking.
Ultimately, we’re about providing a space for people to relax, meet, connect and drink in a truly unpretentious way. We’re just here to get drunk, have fun, pash some stranger and then wander off into the night.
That’s how we began, and while we have expanded our offering over the years to incorporate the world of live music, and have opened new locations around Sydney, the core Mary’s promise is that we will always give you a good time if you show up.
KS: I can personally confirm this to be true. Tell me, how has Mary’s been affected by COVID-19?
JS: Emotionally, it’s been really difficult to have had to lay off so many of our staff. Businesswise, we’ve had to shut the doors on over half of our venues, and of those that remain open revenue has fallen up to 90%.
We’re keeping the doors in those venues open for the goodwill of the staff, and the goodwill of the community who are continuing to support us, as we are them. P&V, Cherry Moon, The Unicorn; all of those venues have been there for us, and have been drunk with us in the past. The negative emotions around everything that’s going on are being reflected by a positive story, and it’s a testament to our team and the community we’ve worked to build.
At home, my familiar life right now is a happy one. The silver lining is that this has been a really precious time for my family. My siblings are connected in a WhatsApp group for the first time, and we’re all finding ways to check in around the restrictions. Plus, there’s something supremely comforting in bringing home a Mary’s burger and enjoying it with my family at home. It’s a beautiful thing.
KS: The things I would do for a Mary’s burger right now… How have you pivoted your business to operate on a takeaway basis temporarily?
JS: We needed to redevelop our website and change up our conversations on social to let people know we’d be doing takeaway. It’s obviously a huge operational difference.
With the temporary changes to laws around alcohol sales, we were able to start selling booze out of Mary’s in a pop-up bottle shop, so those people who were coming down to pick up burgers could also grab a bottle of whiskey while they waited.
We also created stickers with a QR code to a COVID-19 Spotify playlist, that we’re constantly curating as a team for people to play at home while eating their burgers. They can turn the light down low and the music up, and eat Mary’s the way we’d always intended. We’re keeping the energy going. We’re keeping the candles lit.
“We’re keeping the energy going. We’re keeping the candles lit.”
KS: Levelling up from keeping the lights on! Tell me, how can people support your business in the short term?
JS: Well, of course, you could look up your closest Mary’s and enjoy our burgers [laughs]. But aside from the more obvious way you can show your support (visit Marys69.com!), we really need people to stay engaged and ask questions about why they’re supporting the businesses that they buy from.
Ask questions like, “What does this company stand for?”, “How does this company look after its community?”, “What is the spirit of this venue?”, “Is this something I actually believe in, or is it just trend-based and cool?”.
In the last half-decade, Sydney has seen a glut of new restaurant openings, and while some of these have been incredible, others have been devoid of meaning and have done nothing for the hospitality community.
In this post-COVID world, I hope we are left with the stories of resilience of the establishments based around community. Support the businesses you know are in line with your values, and that are having meaningful conversations around community right now.
KS: Have you considered any steps for the future to make up for the time and business lost?
JS: Honestly, I think it’s less about replanting lost ground, and instead looking at this time as an opportunity to reset. Right now, we’re reevaluating who we are, what we do, and how we do it. I’m most excited to have a new sense of purpose on both a cultural and financial level.
This is an opportunity for us to reimagine how we work, and perhaps pivot away from those things we let evolve without our full awareness. It’s an interesting time for us to reflect and reshape our future, which felt a little bit set before all of this happened.
Going forward, I’m excited to provide stages for live music and inspire conversations. We have a renewed sense of purpose. I’m looking forward to being inspired by the way other corners of this industry respond to what’s happened.
“We’re reevaluating who we are, what we do, and how we do it. I’m most excited to have a new sense of purpose.”
Show your support for Mary’s now by treating yourself to a delicious Mary’s burger. And fries. And some fried chicken. It would be rude not to.