Retailers struggle with COVID-19 scare at The District Docklands

Retailers struggle with COVID-19 scare at The District Docklands
Rhonda Dredge

Staff at food outlets are working overtime to reassure customers they are safe following the announcement that two retailers were declared hot spots for COVID-19 at The District Docklands.

Kiern Lim, the store manager of Fish Pier, has about 50 customers a day and she’s talking to them all, she says.

“I talk to them, educate them, make them understand, why The Butcher Club is closed,” she said.

And Joanne Wu, the sushi maker at Sushi Yuzen, is busy getting ready for the lunch trade. “We want customers to return here to always keep them happy,” she said.

Both outlets have loyal customers, and they want to reassure the Docklands community they are still open.

The Butcher Club and Gourmet Deli House were closed by the government in the first week of the lockdown after a positive case visited The District Docklands on Thursday, July 15.

Both stores were still closed as the state entered its second week of lockdown, with the director of The Butcher Club, Peter Robinson, critical of the speed of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

“We’re opening today but we don’t have a tick-off from DHHS,” he told Docklands News on July 23, despite having a certificate for deep cleaning the store.

“We’re old hands at this,” Mr Robinson said. A Butcher Club outlet in Chadstone was the site of one of the first outbreaks, hospitalising the manager.

“In the Docklands case a positive customer wandered through the stall. One staff member had to do 14 days. She came back negative. All other staff are fine to go,” he said.

Mr Robinson said the exposure occurred on the Thursday but DHHS did not call until 2pm on Saturday and the information did not go up on the website until 11.06am on Sunday.

“Where’s the delay? They walked through on Thursday and on Saturday afternoon we were told to close.”

The shopping centre has been through a difficult period during the pandemic and has now faced a COVID scare.

Businesses are keen to dispel the idea that the shopping centre and Docklands, in general, should be avoided.

Kiran Aryan of Docklands Spicelab, across Docklands Drive, said that people on the other side of Collins St were avoiding the place because of the negative publicity.

But for some niche outlets, the pandemic has forced them to reassess their way of operating and they have come up with creative solutions that suit the local palette.

From Scratch Dough is specialising in making sourdough pizza bases to supply to food outlets and locals can walk in off the street and buy them directly. The bases are hand-stretched and hand-made and take 48 hours to make.

The resurgence of these small-scale food suppliers is some consolation for a population struggling with isolation.

“Most of my customers are IT people,” Kiran said. “Most are working from home. It’s hard for everyone. It’s mentally taking its toll. They’re used to being alone, but they like to catch up for coffee and a snack with colleagues.”

Lunch time in The District Docklands is now a good place to be with some good snacks on offer. Fresh oysters are being shucked at Fish Pier and Kiern, also a chef, will point out which fish suit which dishes.

At Docklands Spicelab they’ve just put samosas and kachori in the oven, delicious, spiced lentils inside fried pastry.

At Sushi Yuzen there is vegetable tempura, takoyaki and chilli chicken as well as the usual sushi. “I do like making sushi,” Joanna said. “Connecting with customers is more fun.” •

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