Port's Road to Recovery: How COVID-19 has impacted the Port Stephens hospitality industry

Continuing the Port's Road to Recovery series, this week the Examiner looks at hospitality and how COVID-19 has impacted the industry in Port Stephens. The Port's Road to Recovery series aims to paint a picture of individual industries and social issues, how they have been impacted and what the future looks like for them - as told by those on the ground.

WORKING HARD: Jai Pyke from McCauley's Bottle Shop, Nelson Bay Golf Club director Joanne White and Aussie Bob's owner/operator Jason Hurle. Pictures: Ellie-Marie Watts

WORKING HARD: Jai Pyke from McCauley's Bottle Shop, Nelson Bay Golf Club director Joanne White and Aussie Bob's owner/operator Jason Hurle. Pictures: Ellie-Marie Watts

Nelson Bay Golf Club

Nelson Bay Golf Club is not adverse to tough times.

A fire completely gutted the clubhouse in 2015, which was followed by a two-year rebuild period. But COVID-19 has been an entirely different beast for the club, like many other businesses and individuals, to face down.

"It was different after the fire. We had a date to work towards. Right now, we don't know when we will be able to go back to full trading," general manager Trevor Harrison said. "We have to wait and see what is announced and follow the guidelines as they are handed down."

The outbreak of COVID-19 in Australia was the start of a rollercoaster ride for the Nelson Bay club, which was initially able to operate limited golf services while closing other aspects of the business.

The club then moved into a period of complete shut down for 10 days, resulting in almost all staff being stood down until the federal government's JobKeeper initiative was announced and 27 staff were brought back.

About the same time, the club was able to offer social golf to members only followed by takeaway meals from the Blue Water Grill and, eventually, reopen the clubhouse doors to patrons.

"It has affected all areas of our business," Mr Harrison said of the effect the coronavirus has had on the club.

"Visitor golf, food and beverage, gaming and function income has dried up. We had golf tournaments, weddings, corporate bookings, even a 60th birthday booked in before this.

"Most have been re-booked until a later date when restrictions are further lifted."

Mr Harrison said it was encouraging to see the community's response to the club as it gradually brought services back online. Since the greens reopened to members on April 25, almost all daily sessions have been booked out.

It was similar when the Blue Water Grill began offering take away lunches on May 5 and sit down bookings for up to 10 people on May 18. Since June 1, the club has been able to seat 50 people per section.

Advance bookings for the Blue Water Grill are essential. For bookings or hours of operations go to nelsonbaygolf.com.

McCauley's Bottle Shop, Salamander Bay

ADAPTING: McCauley's Bottle Shop, Salamander Bay licensee Jai Pyke.

ADAPTING: McCauley's Bottle Shop, Salamander Bay licensee Jai Pyke.

The McCauley's team were quick to react to COVID-19 when it spread to Australia by implementing a raft of health and hygiene measures to the Salamander Bay bottle shop and launching a home delivery service which included food essentials from its Salt Ash corner store.

Their efforts have been rewarded with continual trade throughout the pandemic, no downturn in business and, importantly, the ability to keep on all 10 staff members at the drive through bottle shop.

"We've been very busy throughout the pandemic. We've had no downturn in business, which is a relief for us. Initially, our casual staff were very worried they might lose their positions. But that hasn't been the case. We haven't had to lay off any staff. If anything, we've had to increase our casual hours," McCauley's Bottle Shop licensee Jai Pyke said.

Mr Pyke said he and business owner John McCauley introduced a wide variety of measures to the Salamander Bay bottle shop at the start of the pandemic to not only adhere to the government's guidelines but to do everything they could to "keep the community safe".

All touch points in the bottle shop, anything a customer or staff member could touch, is sanitised every morning when the shop opens and is cleaned two to three times during the day.

Clear perspex, which have become known as 'sneeze screens', have been put up in front of the cash registers and there are markings on the ground for customers to adhere to social distancing.

Jai Pyke behind one of the 'sneeze screens' at McCauley's Bottle Shop in Salamander Bay.

Jai Pyke behind one of the 'sneeze screens' at McCauley's Bottle Shop in Salamander Bay.

There is also signage in the shop stating 'no wash, no service'. All customers must use hand sanitiser, which McCauley's has been making themselves since the outbreak, before being served.

"Our staff have made our customers feel safe by showing them that we were doing everything possible to minimise any possible contact with COVID-19 down to nothing," Mr Pyke said.

At the start of the pandemic, McCauley's also launched its Knock and Run same day home delivery service which has been strongly supported by the community. It services Salt Ash up to the Tomaree Peninsula for a small fee of $5. To order, phone (02) 4013 7840.

"Almost straight away we introduced the alcohol home delivery service but we also deliver essential food items from the McCauley's Paul's Corner store such as bread, milk, eggs, apples, tomatoes, sausages," Mr Pyke said.

"We bundled a lot of little things we were already doing into a complete home delivery service - a one-stop-shop of daily essentials from us delivered to your door. We knew a lot of customers were after a service like this. We would like to keep this as a permanent part of the business moving forward."

Aussie Bob's Fish and Chips, Shoal Bay

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic Jason Hurle has kept the doors to Aussie Bob's Fish and Chips open but the decision to do so has not been without its worries and struggles.

CLAWING BACK: Aussie Bob's owner/operator Jason Hurle.

CLAWING BACK: Aussie Bob's owner/operator Jason Hurle.

At the height of the pandemic in March and April, Mr Hurle said he had never seen the streets of Shoal Bay, where the store is located, so "dead" in his entire life and he did everything he could to let residents know the small family operated business which pre-coronavirus employed eight people, now four, was still open.

"We had signage all along the roads, I even bought a flashing light, we ran ads and coupons in the Examiner - anything we could do to get the word out," Mr Hurle said.

"It took a couple of weeks, once things started to settle down, until people started to come out again and grab takeaway.

"I consider food to be an essential service. We weren't one of the businesses forced to shut down, we could still trade, so we did but with reduced hours and some changes to ensure we were complying with regulations.

"Before the government stepped in with its assistance packages like JobKeeper I didn't know what we were going to do. JobKeeper helped a lot and made it feasible to stay open."

Aussie Bob's was founded by Mr Hurle's father, Robert Hurle, in 1991. In the close to 30 years the store has been trading, never has it faced a downturn like the one it is going through due to COVID-19, Mr Hurle said.

Find Aussie Bob's Fish and Chips in Tomaree Rd, Shoal Bay.

Find Aussie Bob's Fish and Chips in Tomaree Rd, Shoal Bay.

Good Friday is traditionally the busiest day of the year for the store. Mr Hurle said he was down 80 percent trade during Easter this year.

"Winter is typically quiet but never like what we saw in March and April," Mr Hurle said. "In this area, tourism and hospitality are two of the biggest industries and they're the two that, I think, have been the hardest hit by this."

While trade is slowly picking up with the further easing of travel bans and restrictions in NSW, Mr Hurle hopes visitation during the June long weekend will give his and other small businesses a "shot in the arm" after weeks of uncertainty.

Mr Hurle thanked Port Stephens residents who have supported his businesses throughout the pandemic, and continue to do so.