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A time of innovation

"The success of Dibbler’s commercial strategy hinged on him being able to find customers, not the other way around." Terry Pratchett

This arrived in my letterbox today. It's from the Victorian Tourism people and it's their latest campaign Click for Vic. The aim being to encourage all Victorians to buy local, buy Victorian and help the struggling artisans of all kinds, out there in this time of crisis.

So I flicked through it looking for inspiration for a post - I was out of ideas again - and was struck by the huge variety of responses that various Victorian producers, craftsmen, restaurateurs, etc. had made to their current crisis. I shall ignore the sections on health and beauty, art, fashion and tourist attractions - well this is supposed to be a foodie blog. Even within the foodie scene though there was a huge variety of responses that demonstrates that many just don't give up.

The most obvious is the take-away food scene. On a local scale I'm sure all your local cafés and restaurants are doing take-away on a larger scale than before. These won't show up, either in this publication or on the Visit Victoria website, but I know that they do this. I have a friend, who, in normal times will visit one of their two favourite Eltham cafés (we have heaps of them), for a morning coffee and a read of the newspapers. Maybe they also meet friends and have breakfast. I'm not sure. And even now they still run down to their café and buy some take-away coffee to bring back home to enjoy. Now I'm sure there is no need to do this and that they can make their own coffee but, all praise to them, they are continuing to support their local favourites in this time of need. I have also spoken before about our local fine dining restaurant, Mercer's, and their home fine dining experience that we have tried twice now. We are looking for the next 'tempting to us' meal. Almost made it this week but not quite. Duck is not David's thing. I don't know, but I'm betting that all the other local cafés and restaurants have switched to take-away. Indeed it was probably already a large part of their business. So I guess it's not a hugely creative response. Well - I think the fine dining one is, if only because of the mini lesson you get on plating your dish.

But it seems that more creative - or should I say entrepreneurial - minds have taken this a step further. Perhaps the most notable of these is Shane Delia of the popular Melbourne restaurant Maha. I think he probably began, like our local Mercer's by providing a take-away service which includes an entire banquet, as well as individual dishes from his menu. He also, at some point, started giving cooking lessons - presumably via Zoom. You pay your money - quite a lot - $156.50 - and then you get sent all the ingredients, and at the designated time you cook your way through the meal. I know my daughter-in-law tried this with Andrew McConnell - another big name Melbourne chef. It must have been a successful move for Shane Delia because he then actually started up a new business Providoor which:

"is a marketplace designed to deliver food from Melbourne’s best restaurants to consumer’s doors. All meals are chef-prepared, restaurant quality and finished by you." Providoor website

On the Providoor website there are now a large number of prestige Melbourne restaurants listed and Providoor will deliver as far away as Gippsland and Bendigo. So Shane Delia has a completely new and ever expanding business. One is never sure whether one should congratulate him for his enterprise, and the assistance given to all of those restaurants, or whether one should take the attitude that he is making money out of people's problems. I think I lean to the former as it must surely mean that all of those other restaurants don't have to do all the organising work that makes the business model a success and that enables them to deliver meals to a wider audience than the local one. Well I guess I am assuming it is a success. It's sort of a refined Uber Eats I suppose, so perhaps not entirely original, but still - someone saw an opportunity and ran with it.

I did check a couple of the restaurants on the list and they also seem to do their own take-away services, but obviously to a rather more limited, and closer audience.

Another similar enterprise is Co-lab Pantry which:

"aims to create an experiential platform that brings people from all areas of hospitality together in the one space. We've partnered with restaurants, bars, chefs, local makers, producers and organisations using food for good to create a community that can continuously share, create and learn together - even when you aren't dining in!"

They have a broader reach in that this site is a sort of marketplace for all manner of Victorian produce. Yes there are some take-away meals as well but not so many and not so posh. The focus is more on the condiments. But there are also two charitable links - to Nominate a Mate - whereby you can nominate a person suffering from this crisis to receive some goodies, and Tip Jar which is a charity supporting people in the hospitality industry.

The business is very new - just a month old in its current form and was founded by three young people, Danielle Lebon, Natasha Buttigieg and Alvin Chadee.

Their experience was in hospitality and events but mostly in e-commerce and digital advertising - so very today. And you have to hand it to them. They began planning early on, had a soft launch in June and are now up and running with an ever-increasing number of suppliers. They already distribute around Australia and have plans to go global. Sort of wow!

The Click for Vic booklet/magazine and the website too was quite interesting in that you could see how various producers were reacting to the crisis by all manner of new ventures - virtual tastings, classes of all kinds, virtual tours, the development of new products, and also the opportunity to take the time to renovate and expand for the anticipated return to full business, ultimately hoping to expand the new markets they seem to be building via online shopping.

I do hope that all of this activity will help them through. One thing is for sure that only the enterprising and energetic survive these things. Alas. Co-Lab pantry obviously has a future, but do you think that Providoor's services will continue when all of this is over, or will we return to dining out. After all, however, fine the food you get delivered it's not the same as the experience of fine dining is it?

"Ah, ‘tis a hard trade, horse-holding,’ said the man.  ‘It’s learning the proper grovellin’ and the irreverent-but-not-too-impudent cheery ‘oss-’older’s banter.  People don’t just want you to look after the ‘oss, see.  They want a ‘oss-’olding hexperience."" Terry Pratchett


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