It’s not uncommon for people to knock on Gunaseelan Manoharan’s door well after closing time.
With his partner Leesha Gunaseelan, Mr Manoharan opened their fusion restaurant, Rooh, in Horsham’s town hall in September 2020.
They open between 10:00am and 8:00pm seven days a week, but often keep cooking if the orders keep coming.
“Sometimes people come at 10 o’clock, so if we are still there, we will cook for them,” Mr Manoharan said.
Mr Manoharan said most people who called in after-hours were travelling between Melbourne and Adelaide and thoroughly researched what they wanted.
“We also find a lot of travellers couldn’t get accommodation in Halls Gap, so they stay here to go the Grampians,” he said.
Mr Manoharan said he thought the early closing times were costing the city.
“Everyone thinks everything’s closed at 2:00pm, so no-one goes out.”
Mrs Gunaseelan agrees: “I think more places should be open, so people keep moving around until the late evening. We don’t think of anyone as competition.”
While it does get quiet on Sundays, Mrs Gunaseelan said they would never consider closing in the middle of the day.
“We don’t want to shut one day and open other days; it has to be constant. Otherwise, people might not come here,” she said.
Mr Manoharan said people who lived an hour’s drive away and came to shop in Horsham also benefited from having places to eat at all hours.
As part of its regular contact with its members, the local chamber of commerce, Business Horsham, is asking the city’s hospitality businesses what time they close and what would compel them to stay open for longer.
Business Horsham’s ambassador Stacey Taig said travellers and locals alike had raised this concern with them several times in recent weeks.
She said the Australia Day weekend highlighted the repercussions of the status quo.
“There was only one cafe open: the bakery,” she said.
“We need to look at how we can overcome it. It is certainly not the impression we want to leave: people not being able to access any simple services you would expect.
“[The questions] are about getting the reasoning behind why this is happening and to see if we can find a way around it.”
What comes first, supply or demand?
One street north of Mr Manoharan and Mrs Gunaseelan’s restaurant is Cafe Jas.
Sharron Keating, who has part-owned the eatery for 14 years, has just this week extended its opening hours from 2:00pm to 4:00pm.
“We finally managed to find some more staff,” Ms Keating said.
“Throughout COVID, we had four staff go on to different careers in that time, which was wonderful for them and is quite normal in hospitality.
“We ended up going to a traineeship company and seeing if we could find younger people passionate about food and put two on as trainees, and again we got zero applicants.
“I think JobKeeper and JobSeeker had an impact on that. We’ve been very grateful for JobKeeper, but it has made it more challenging to find staff.
“The other issue is we are still not at capacity due to restrictions, so having reduced numbers impacts on the bottom line. We probably won’t open on Sundays until we can fill every seat.”
Ms Keating said before COVID-19 and Rooh, only her cafe and one other opened across Sunday in Horsham.
She has put on four new staff in the past month. The federal government’s JobKeeper wage subsidy is set to end on March 28.
Though Horsham is central-western Victoria’s largest town, with about 15,000 residents, and services a region of nearly 36,000 people, Ms Keating said population was still a barrier to eateries staying open for longer.
“Even if more cafes open on a Sunday, there is only going to be a certain amount of people around,” she said.
“Saturdays have always been challenging for us because a lot of the staff play football and netball.
“Plus, we have to pay Sunday rates for casuals. We make more profits on Mondays than Sundays.”
Mr Manoharan said he and Mrs Gunaseelan were looking for another chef, but they saved money by being employees of Rooh as well as its owners.
Paul Guerra of Victoria’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry encouraged eateries to revisit their business models if there was a demand for them to stay open for longer.
“If the business stays, there will be an opportunity to employ people. We believe there is an opportunity to revisit the fringe benefits tax for legitimate business lunches and dinners to stimulate hospitality.
“I think you will see [details on stimulus packages] play out in the next month.”
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