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
George Houvardas is most well-known for his role as neighbour Nick ‘Carbo’ Karandonis on Channel 7’s Packed to the Rafters (soon-to-be Back to the Rafters).
But to the locals of McMahon’s Point in Sydney, Houvardas is the co-owner of Piato Restaurant — a European dining outlet which is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
As an old local of Piato (which literally translates to “plate” in Greek), the one thing that I love about the restaurant is the friendly, neighbourhood atmosphere where you feel like part of the family.
Each visit, no matter how long between the two, you are greeted with a hug, a kiss and some seriously good service, food and coffee.
The family-run business has now been operating for thirteen years, however, since the global coronavirus pandemic, Houvardas and his brothers, Steve and Tony, have had to make several adjustments and sacrifices to keep their business afloat.
Here, I speak to Houvardas about Piato and what he and his brothers are doing to ensure the longevity of their restaurant.
Anita Lyons: George, thank you for your time. I can appreciate this is a particularly overwhelming time for you and the family. Let’s start by looking back, what did the last year bring for your business?
George Houvardas: Our goal was always to be consistent and this year, we had a change in our head chef. Just over a year ago, we hired Kyriakos and he brought an attitude as equal as ours, and so we’re all — including the kitchen and on the floor — on the exact same page in terms of consistency and work ethic and most importantly enjoyment for the job.
AL: Most people know you as an actor, but for me, I know you as an incredibly hard worker, and the man behind the coffee machine at Piato — why do you love what you do?
GH: It’s the hospitality that I love. I get to work with my brothers and family and friends and being there for 13 years and we welcome people into our house and we try to run our restaurant and make it as enjoyable for us. When a customer comes in, they’re not just a customer, we like to make them feel like they’re part of the family. Of course, there are people who don’t want to be interrupted while they eat, but that’s the way we run our business and most people who come in know that.
“When a customer comes in, they’re not just a customer, we like to make them feel like they’re part of the family.”
AL: I definitely feel like part of the family when I come in! What would you say your percentage of return customers is?
GH: Return customers are not necessarily locals and they’d be probably 60-70%. Every restaurant attracts a type of person and we certainly attract “our” type of people and that’s why it works.
AL: How has Piato been directly affected by the coronavirus outbreak?
GH: In numbers terms, and this is the second week of lockdown officially [at the time of interview], we’re probably sitting at an 80% down in turnover.
All of the casuals had to go, but I can’t give you an exact percentage because now the Government is offering packages now to encourage businesses to hold people on.
In this situation there’s no plan, you’ve just got to prepare for the worst, hope for the best and take each day as it comes. It’s not something you can really plan 100% for but it is something you can brace yourself for.
AL: So, the casuals people that you’ve let go, will you bring them back?
GH: Casuals are usually the ones that live at home with their parents, but we will bring them back when the time comes. We’re bringing back all the full-timers 100% and some are just doing fewer hours. Casuals are casual for a reason. It depends on the market. I think that even if coronavirus was solved in the next three to four weeks, I can’t see the hospitality industry recovering within a week or overnight. So, I can’t promise that we’d bring back the casuals because it would be just like normal — you have your busy periods and your quiet periods.
AL: In terms of a financial hit, that’s quite personal, but as a business owner during this current climate, what does that mean for you?
GH: We’re just like anyone. You just have to be tight with your money. Your budgets go down and you just adapt. Your money goes to paying off your suppliers. I think the mortgages are getting frozen, but again, that’s not for another month, we’ve had to adapt, budget right, make our cuts. In saying that, there’s nothing open to spend your money on anyway.
I also like to share the love though and I’ve got my two favourite restaurants and when I finish work, I’ll get my takeaway and buy coffees from them. But whatever you can, just throw back into supporting your local butcher or coffee shop.
We do live a life of excesses in a normal situation, but you just cut all of that stuff and as a business owner, you put your business first because you need to keep that running.
“We do live a life of excesses in a normal situation, but you just cut all of that stuff and as a business owner, you put your business first because you need to keep that running.”
AL: What immediate changes have you made to your business?
GH: We’re planning to the point that we’re going to be in lockdown for six months so we’ve adapted our business for delivery and takeaway. We deliver the food ourselves. We don’t use UberEats. We make our food and deliver it as quickly and as fresh as possible. The longer this time goes, you’ll see a lot of people changing and adapting their businesses to suit.
We’re doing pretty much the same hours. Coffee all day and the kitchen only operates from 7am-3pm and then there’s a two-hour break. But even then, we have someone on the premises so that the kitchen doesn’t shut down. If someone walks in an wants us to cook something, we’ll just call back the worker from his break. Everyone is trying to get as many hours as possible so no one says no to that.
“You’ll see a lot of people changing and adapting their businesses.”
AL: Do you have any other immediate plans to pivot your business or is it just about keeping it running for as long as you can?
GH: The idea has always been food and people have always got to be able to eat. It’s about adapting your menu and your product because all of the veggies have gone up, meat has gone up so you need to be looking at your menu every day.
You look at prices, you look at people’s spending patterns and even being the second week, we’ve seen some major changes already. Who knows what it’s going to be like in two or three weeks. You just have to be fluid in your business model and adaptable and be able to budget your business to suit other people’s budgets.
“You just have to be fluid in your business model and adaptable and be able to budget your business to suit other people’s budgets.”
View this post on Instagram
Day 1 of Piato Takeaway and Delivery. So far so good, and Tony didn’t get lost! You can order -in person -by phone (02 99225601) -online piatorestaurant.com.au Don’t forget coffee is still available from 6am and breakfast from 7am. No third party drivers here, just all the familiar faces that you know. #piato #piatorestaurant #mcmahonspoint #delivery #takeaway #quarantinelife #mediterraneanfood
AL: I know this seems like a pipe dream right now, but what steps do you think you have to take once everything has reopened to get back to where you were?
GH: Where we were? That’s out of our control. If this goes on for six months, I find it very hard to see people jumping straight into the spending patterns they had before. I just don’t see that happening.
We’re just going to stick to what we’ve used for the 13 years which is consistency and persistence and that’s all you really can do. And just be positive and take each day at a time.
This is probably the first major hit here in a very, very long time.
“We’re just going to stick to what we’ve used for the 13 years which is consistency and persistence and that’s all you really can do.”
AL: What do you want to tell people about why this is a particularly hard time for small businesses such as yourselves?
GH: It’s the simple fact that these small businesses were started by someone that has a passion for the job. They’ve already sacrificed a lot to start it, be it time, personal and financial to run a small business and most sacrificing a lot of personal investment. It’s hard for them to just walk away and it can be heartbreaking for them to do that for any size. In terms of small business, it can vary by size, being the corner store or a restaurant or a cafe, a bakery.
AL: How can we support your small business in the short term?
GH: It’s not just my business. It’s any local businesses. The simple thing of just going to the local coffee shop and buying your essential long black or your coffee and having that interaction with the owner — it’s not only good for the business but it’s good for yourself in the community.
I’ve already found that people will be looking at their lives different and hopefully just putting away social media and actually just being more sociable in person. People are actually craving a conversation now in person. So, I think it’s important to keep your social distancing but go and get your coffee or your loaf of bread. I think that’s really important.