Christchurch is a city well accustomed to making a comeback during hard times so when Level 3 hit town many of the city’s cafes and restaurants fired up that enterprising spirit of determination and cranked into gear.

From push-bike coffee deliveries to delivered in-home, DIY assembly fine dining experiences, a good number of Christchurch city’s café and restaurant operators have been flat out in a city where loyal locals know how vital their support is.

There are some 1800 food licences operating normally within the city boundaries and the wider Canterbury region has more than 2200, employing 16,000 people. Restaurants and cafes who’ve managed to kick into gear in some form say they’ve been hugely heartened by the demand.

The ‘feel good’ factor works both ways. Gatherings owner Alex Davies says one of the nicest moments was when a regular customer who often drops by the restaurant with fresh herbs arrived with a little dress she had made for his two-year-old daughter.

Alex is offering Fish Suppers including a whole line-caught roasted or grilled fish, with an array of beautiful salads, sauces and sides and he says the response has been overwhelming.

“We have a big light display on a projector up on the walls in our courtyard where people collect from with candles and nice music playing,” says Alex.  “It gives people a snip of normality, a feeling of somewhere special,” he says.

The modern casual, fine dining restaurant has gone for a more homely style of food and so far there’s been an amazing response, says Alex. The Fish Supper takeaway menu had clocked up 95 pre-orders for the week by the second night.

“It’s been a lovely humbling experience.” For Chris Penny, a co-owner of two Sydenham venues, the popular Hello Sunday Café and Fifth Street Restaurant right across the road from each other, – he’s been turning out just short of 200 coffees a day at the café and more than 100 meals at the restaurant at night, similar restaurant numbers in terms of food to normal nights.

Deliveries unnecessary as customers seek to go out

More than a thousand customers turned up between the two venues in the first few days of Level 3, but trade is about 30 percent of normal, which largely accounts for no alcohol sales, says Chris. He and his two business partners have been running the restaurant with Chris and his head chef operating the café orders.

“It’s been real busy, an amazing response, really great. People have been looking forward to something to eat that they didn’t cook themselves,” says Chris. Delivery didn’t seem necessary as they’ve been cracking the pace just to keep up with their maximum capacity of orders.

“We didn’t see any need to deliver as people really want to get out and they love coming here,” he says. “We’ve been the same crew here for several years and I think people have missed us. There have been a lot of familiar faces and catch-ups,” he says.

Menus have been revamped to brunch and dinner at around a third of the size, “so we can do small and monitor it well”. Eggs Benedict and coffee have been the top seller at Hello Sunday with lamb shoulder and tripled cooked potatoes winning out at Fifth Street.

“We’ve gone for real classic home-cooked food,” says Chris. Level 3 will be the crux, he believes. “It feels like a transitional period. I guess it’s a desperate plea to save businesses,” he says. “We don’t rely on tourism or surrounding businesses as we’re more of a destination style local favourite.”

He feels more for businesses who rely heavily on foot traffic and tourism. “But we’re a resilient bunch in Christchurch. It wouldn’t be business in Christchurch if we didn’t have something happen every five years to flip everything upside down,” says Chris.

“All we can do is create a product that people enjoy and if you do it well business will find you.”

Charity donations

For Emma Mettrick, of 27 Steps with its one day a week ‘Meals on Wheels’-type service, the big demand has been humbling and Emma and her chef and business partner Paul Howells are collecting optional $2 donations for charity food on every meal.

It’s been so popular that they’re looking at extending to two nights if and when they can. Even before the Friday dinner orders were delivered by Emma, Paul and shifts of their 28 staff, $240 had been raised for the Christchurch City Mission with a number of customers choosing to donate a little more.

“We can also donate our labour and create a meal to give to charity and each week we’ll change to a different charity, but we’re limited because we can only offer freshly cooked food. She’s also approached Women’s Refuge and Ronald McDonald House about helping with food during Level 2.

“Demand for the meals has totally exceeded what we anticipated,” says Emma. “We originally thought Paul and I would deliver but all of our front of house team wanted to help. They now all have 10 deliveries to do each, collecting their orders with a temperature probe, hand sanitiser and map safely at different times while staying in their bubbles.”

27 Steps has also gone for comfort-style food like soups, risotto, beef cheek and a vegan tagine with its freshly-baked house bread delivered with each order. [email protected] is an arty, heat and eat style dinner pack, prepped and ready to go with some assembly required at home. It’s a little more rustic than the usual fine dining offer and super fun, with instructions from the experts included.

Co-owner Lisa Levy, also Canterbury Restaurant Association branch president, and Englishman chef husband Simon Levy, who has worked for Gordon Ramsay in London, have been quick to adapt.

Team efforts

Their entire team is prepping, ordering, packaging and delivering everything from signature duck trumpets – duck parfait inside a homemade waffle with black peach jam to lamb shoulder and confit duck leg with white bean and sausage cassoulet, all designed, as with Inati, to share between two.

“We personally phoned everyone so we could engage with them and everyone’s been so lovely,” says Lisa. They’ve been flat out with more than 100 orders on their first night. “There’s been such an overwhelming response from the community to heat and eat, or buy takeaways,” says Lisa. “It’s really great to see Christchurch hospitality operators come out and adapt,” she says. “Many have been through the earthquakes and I think they just do what they have to do. You have to adapt and keep going. There’s a very stoic feeling among operators, she says.

“There’s a real resilience. It’s just something we have to weather. Mother’s Day (May 10) could be impressive this year too with [email protected] also offering a family meal for four for that special day.

Addington Coffee Co-op came up with a novel way to deliver takeaway coffees by push-bike while Flamingo Food has been delivering for venues by e-scooter. C1 Espresso’s first day free coffees to celebrate the first day of Level 3 also slid down rather nicely in Christchurch.

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