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7 Lessons of Lockdown

In February this year as the bush fires raged and a weirdly named virus started its insidious travels, a new business opened its doors blissfully unaware of the shitstorm to come. The Thornbury Fromagerie is an intimate licensed cheese bar dedicated to showcasing the best of Australia’s artisan cheese and celebrating French fromage paired with a boutique wine list of old world and new. The vision of a local Thornbury couple inspired by their overseas travels, this first time venture hit the spot for romantic celebrations, catch ups with girlfriends and created a distinctly European wine and cheese experience in the heart of Melbourne’s north.

Lesson 1: Try not to launch your new business during a pandemic

After just six weeks of trade The Thornbury Fromagerie, like thousands of other restaurants and bars across Melbourne, closed its doors. The fridges were full of very perishable soft cheese, the wine was stocked, orders were pending with suppliers and new staff had just begun to settle into their routine.

Lesson 2: Lockdown is better with wine and cheese

Customers and friends answered the call, The Thornbury Fromagerie sold off the restaurant cheese stock and flipped their attention to building an online store. In hindsight the first lockdown wasn’t that tough. Everyone was willing to do their part to ‘flatten the curve’ and thousands of us baked bread and zoomed our friends. The weather was cooler, many of us avoided the daily commute and discovered that leggings were acceptable work attire, and we drank a lot of wine and ate a lot of cheese. The online orders were steady as small indulgences buoyed our lockdown spirits.

Lesson 3: Don’t get your hopes up

Seven weeks later the Thornbury Fromagerie opened its doors, albeit to smaller numbers, strict conditions and a whole lot of sanitising, handwashing and recording of contact details. The mood was high, leather bound menus were replaced with laminated, wipe clean versions. We laughed off bizarre rules that said a table of six was ok but eight too risky, we drank quickly in our two hour limits and desperately clung to our pre-covid social habits. Then the case numbers crept up and the bookings got cancelled and each daily news cycle brought more fear. After five short weeks The Thornbury Fromagerie was closed again.

Lesson 4: Remember why you started

Lockdown 2.0 was tough. Each day brought more cases, more deaths and the pandemic got very serious, very quickly. Just as the rest of Australia started to regain their freedom, Victoria and particularly Melbourne entered one of the world’s harshest lockdowns. Hotel quarantine failures, rhetoric on rule breakers and a long miserable winter slowly broke our spirits. Then the messages and gifts came. Creating the perfect iso-birthday celebration became a point of pride and supporting local business more important than ever. Nearly every new order at The Thornbury Fromagerie had a message of support and customers even dropped off flowers.

Lesson 5: Plan ahead, take a punt and invest

On the other side of the world, New York’s restaurants and bars spilled onto the streets and a summer of outdoor dining gave The Thornbury Fromagerie hope for the future. With a sympathetic landlord, hours of hardwork and the help of friends with the all important bunnings trade card, a very ordinary suburban backyard began to transform. Taking a risk to invest in outdoor dining well before government initiatives and grant funding put The Thornbury Fromagerie ahead of the curve and le Jardinet (little garden) outdoor dining was born.

Lesson 6: Be patient, be kind

The tables and chairs were set, festoon lights twinkled and the spring flowers bloomed while The Thornbury Fromagerie waited for good news. After over 100 days of doom and gloom a glimmer of hope emerged as daily cases decreased and talk started of reopening. For every bit of positive progress a new failing led the news cycle and tensions were high. It no longer felt like we were all in this together.

Lesson 7: Get your game face on

In the blink of an eye it all changed. On Monday 26 October, with the year nearly done, we finally got the green light. Lockdown was lifted and businesses had 30 hours to get ready for reopening. It’s been a roller coaster ride but never underestimate the adrenalin rush each new booking brings. Melbournians we can’t wait to see you again.

By Olivia Ientile (one of the gratefully busy owners of The Thornbury Fromagerie)