Businesses have had a hard time adjusting to the current COVID-19 pandemic, with many businesses unable to trade and having had to close shop because of lockdown regulations in South Africa. This has led to some businesses, especially restaurants, being forced to close down because of financial challenges.
With lockdown regulations being lowered to level three at the beginning of June, restaurants are some of the businesses still not able to operate. One of the countless businesses feeling the financial pressure is the iconic bakery in Cape Town, Charly’s Bakery. Charly’s Bakery has been in business since 1989, but is currently struggling to keep their doors open.
Jacqui Biess, owner of Charly’s Bakery, tells more about how this crisis has affected their business and what innovative ways they are thinking of to keep their doors open.
How is the current situation regarding the lockdown affecting businesses such as Charly’s Bakery?
Charly’s Bakery has been in lockdown for over two months now, and it has been incredibly difficult for us, as all 25 of our employees are on unpaid leave. The owners of the bakery, myself, Alex and Dani (my daughters), have not taken their salaries since January in order to keep paying the staff for as long as possible. We are grateful to the UIF for having paid 23 of the 25 staff for the month of April, but we’re now at the end of May, and submissions for May UIF haven’t opened yet, so we’re really worried about our staff.
What challenges is your business currently facing?
Charly’s Bakery has a large local and international tourist clientele, which started dwindling as early as January, when COVID-19 began to spread rapidly from country to country. We were grateful to receive a three-month payment holiday from Nedbank for our bond on the Charly’s Bakery building, but we are very much aware that our payments will begin again in July. The only good news is that interest rates have dropped by 2,5 basis points.
We are worried about reopening the bakery, as our staff would have to use public transport of some kind, and this would put them, and therefore us, too, at higher risk of being infected with COVID-19. I suffer from Crohn’s disease and I am immunocompromised, so I won’t be able to return to the bakery until Cape Town has passed through the COVID-19 peak. We will be unable to operate at our normal capacity for many months to come, as the public have been advised to continue social distancing, so our business will continue to be negatively affected for quite some time.
What were your initial thoughts just before lockdown started?
I was very much aware of the COVID-19 crisis worldwide and immediately started preparing the staff with hygiene and safety measures. We purchased buffs from the Sunflower Fund for each of our staff to wear when using public transport (way before the government recommended wearing masks in public) so that they would be able to shop and travel safely under lockdown. We researched the relevant UIF applications that we would need to submit and we filled in more than 10 forms for each of our 25 employees, so we were prepared for any information that we would be asked for by UIF TERS online applications, but we didn’t imagine that it would take more than five weeks for the bulk of our staff to be paid out. Two of our staff are still waiting to be paid out for the first five weeks of lockdown.
Were you “prepared” for lockdown; could you prepare in some sense? Did you think of the possibility that lockdown might get extended?
We were expecting some form of lockdown to happen, having watched the COVID-19 crisis hit Italy, England and the USA, so we weren’t surprised when President Ramaphosa announced three weeks of lockdown, but we did not think that the lockdown would last as long as it has. Charly’s Bakery has always closed for an annual winter break, so that all staff can take their leave together in the June/July school holidays. As a result, at the start of lockdown, we initiated our annual holiday protocol in our bakery, which all our staff understood. This meant cleaning the bakery from top to bottom and preparing all our products for freezing, so that we would be able to open again without any major stock problems.
Is Charly’s Bakery currently “open”? Are you able to sell anything?
Charly’s Bakery hasn’t opened yet, as it is not financially viable for us to open at the moment. We are working on ways to bring in a third of our staff safely to start working again, but we are very nervous, as COVID-19 is starting to peak in Cape Town, and we don’t want to put our staff and their families’ lives at risk by opening too soon. Once all of the level three regulations have been announced, we will make a decision about when to reopen Charly’s Bakery.
What are your thoughts regarding the lockdown rules relating to restaurants and businesses such as yours?
We understand and support our president in the steps he has taken with the lockdown in South Africa. We do, however, feel that it is important to open up the economy now, as the number of restaurants and other businesses that are being forced into liquidation at the moment is heartbreaking. It is in the best interest of restaurant owners to look after the well-being of their customers. We suggest allowing restaurants to reduce their seating by two thirds and to trade with some seated customers while applying stringent hygiene and social distancing recommendations.
How are you staying positive during these times?
We are staying positive because we are taking action. We are running a reward-based crowdfunding campaign on Jumpstarter to #KeepCharlysBakeryAlive, and we have raised more than R3oo 000 of our R500 000 goal to date.
Running our crowdfunding campaign and applying for UIF TERS for our staff has meant that we’ve had a really busy lockdown. Knowing that we are doing everything in our power to save Charly’s Bakery and the jobs of all 25 of our staff is inspiring us to stay positive and keep fighting for our survival. We are hoping to film season three of Charly’s cake angels later this year, which is a huge motivator for us. Season three will be even more exciting than ever, as we’ll be able to share with our fans all that we did to ensure the survival of Charly’s Bakery.
I do have my down days, and when that happens, I recharge my batteries by spending the day in bed, watching series or pottering with my gardening, which always makes me feel better.
- Photos: supplied