Momento Hospitality responded to the COVID-19 crisis very quickly in 2020, and its team were rewarded for their efforts.

Pivoting a pub’s business was vital in keeping venues tenable last year, and none did so as quickly and creatively as Momento Hospitality in north-west Sydney. The group’s executive team had foreseen that a lockdown was on the way in February, and immediately began planning for how it would get through an extended shutdown period.

“Fundamentally, we made the commitment to keep as many people employed as we could for as long as we could,” explains CEO Marcello Colosimo.

The plans were drawn up so quickly that its first initiative – a drive-through, contactless supermarket-like offering at Bella Vista Hotel called Essentials Express – was able to open on the day the national lockdown was announced.

“That really buoyed the staff, and then the other ideas started flowing. And the main question in our meetings always was how do we keep one more person employed?”

From one idea to the next

When the team was not able to support its visa workers from its kitchens, Colosimo suggested to the group’s executive chef Sam Youngs that they lend those workers a food truck that the business was not using, so that they could try to make themselves some money. Youngs expanded on that idea, creating Food Truck Express in the Bella Vista Hotel car park – allowing any local business with a food truck to set up outside the pub and sell their food to the local community.

The initiatives piggy-backed off each other from there. Essentials Express and Food Truck Express led the group to making takeaway cocktails, selling about 10,000 during the lockdown. Momento then developed a new business called Vice, in which staff members taught people how to make cocktails over Zoom. Vice is still in operation, having found a receptive market in the corporate world.

Momento also has an RTO called LearnHospo that it pivoted from a B2B training platform to a B2C one called HelpOutHospo. It sold videos to consumers, teaching them to make certain meals or learn certain kitchen skills, with the monies raised donated to hospitality workers not supported by JobKeeper or JobSeeker. It was able to raise $40,000, and once the Sydney market was back on its feet, it directed $15,000 in funds raised to workers affected in Melbourne.

Opening and reopening

Keeping a lot of the staff employed throughout the lockdown period was a huge boost for Momento. Colosimo knew that the industry would have a tough time recruiting once they could reopen, and having personnel in place made the shift back to on-premise work easier.

Colosimo says all of the group’s 2020 initiatives not only kept its business going, but helped keep new projects alive as well. The group had begun work on a small neighbourhood pub called the Duke of Dural at the beginning of the year, and they were able to convince their financiers to allow them to continue with it.

“We went to the bank and said ‘This is what we’re doing, this is how we’re keeping our people employed, this is how we’re paying our bills’ and showed them those initiatives in the hopes they’d keep supporting us to finish the Duke of Dural. They did, and we were able to open just as we came out of COVID.”

Full steam ahead

After a massive 2020, Momento Hospitality has no intention of slowing down this year. Both The Governor and Hillside Hotel currently have DAs lodged to significantly expand both venues by about 50 per cent. The group is also working on a couple of new greenfields projects, with at least one set to open this year. Colosimo says it all comes down to renewed faith that pubs are a great business, no matter the circumstances.

“Pubs are good in good times, but they’re also good in bad times. Because people want to be able to come out and enjoy themselves and create memories, no matter what’s going on. So our industry is just amazing and we’re proud to be part of it and proud to be growing.”

This article was first published in Australian Hotelier’s Annual Industry Leaders Forum. For more in-depth pub news, subscribe to the Australian Hotelier fortnightly newsletter.

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