Fri. Jun 14th, 2024

‘What the hell is going on?’: Why Giovanni had to close his restaurant after 40 years

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell May30,2024
The Olive Jar has weathered economic storms before — namely the late 1990s recession, and the 2009 Global Financial Crisis — but nothing like the one hitting Australia’s hospitality industry now.
After 40 years on Lygon Street, a hub of Melbourne’s Italian community, the owners have called last drinks, closing down the venue around two weeks ago.
Owner Giovanni Mica has spent his life surrounded by Italian food. His family were restaurant owners in Italy and continued the trade when they moved to Melbourne in the 1960s.

Mica was 13 years old and not long after arrival started to do paid singing and acting jobs.

When the family opened The Olive Jar he would sing for customers, which he attributes some of the venue’s longevity to.
“Of course the food was amazing, it was traditional, but also we had the point of difference to perform a lot of the Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra songs that represent a typically Italian vibe for Italian diaspora.”

“We went through many things as a business but right now things are the worst. It’s really a terrible time for restaurants at the moment … what the hell is going on?”

A restaurant with a sign and tables and chairs out the front

The Olive Jar was opened by Giovanni Mica’s family 40 years ago. Source: Instagram / theolivejarcarlton

The COVID-19 pandemic changed the industry in Melbourne, the most locked-down city in the world.

Mica said even when the city reopened running a restaurant was much harder than before. People preferred ordering from delivery apps which take a large cut of order fees.
The cost of produce and electricity ballooned, the award level for wages was raised and customers were cutting spending.

“We could never tell when it was going to be busy or not. And when people did come in they had a lot less money to spend.”

Mica said it was difficult to say goodbye to the Carlton community.
“We had people getting married there, then they had children, the children got married and the children were coming in. So it’s just a long, big family that we actually build up and it was just incredible part of culture and part of our history.
“Carlton is a very special place to us because it represents the massive growth of the Italian community, and we were part of that growth.”
Mica said the Olive Jar may open again elsewhere but for the moment he’s working on a film about the restaurant.
Carlton, also known as Little Italy, lost another decades-old institution, La Luna Bistro, this month.
Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp told SBS News total spend on dining in March 2024 was $334 million.
This was up 16 per cent from the previous month, and up 2 per cent from March 2019. 
“Small businesses, and in particular our local restaurants and traders are the lifeblood of our city – they keep Melbourne humming, adding vibrancy, character and appeal to our iconic streets and precincts.”

“We understand there are many traders finding it more difficult than normal to do business right now – and we’re doing what we can to support them, including putting on an epic calendar of events to bring more visitors into the city, and expanding our Business Concierge team.”

Consumer spending downturn hitting restaurants hard

Melbourne restaurant closure announcements in the past four months have included Izakaya Den, Rosetta, Gingerboy, Pie Thief, Mali Bakes and La Porchetta.
Industry heavyweight Tetsuya Wakuda will close Tetsuya’s in Sydney in July, in a worrying sign that even internationally celebrated venues are battling to stay open.
In the past three months, Sydney closure announcements have included Raja, Izakaya Tempura Kuon, Botswana Butchery, Tequila Daisy, Redbird Chinese, Lucky Kwong, Khanaa and Cornersmith.
The closures are national and predicted to get worse — as many as one in 13 hospitality businesses could face closure in the next 12 months, according to a recent report from financial service analysts CreditorWatch.

The report estimates the outlook for hospitality businesses won’t improve until consumer spending trends back up, following the impacts of predicted interest rate cuts.

In its last meeting, the , but acknowledged that inflation is not going down in the way it hopes even though consumer spending has dropped.
Celebrated chef Neil Perry was one of the big names who launched the Australian Restaurant and Cafe Association on Friday, with the aim of getting more government support for the hospitality industry.
“Every restaurant and cafe owner is facing unprecedented challenges,” the association’s chief executive Wes Lambert said in a statement.

“Taxes, inflation, wage pressures, costs of doing business, and skilled staffing shortages, along with ever-increasing rents, are pushing the sector to the wall.”

New restaurants still opening

One Sydney hotspot was given a second chance weeks after the original owners decided to close because of financial struggles in a difficult period.

Some 10 years after opening, late night Mexican venue Chechos in Penrith has been taken on by new owners and reopened.

A spokesperson for Chechos said the new owners own around 30 venues and decided to make minimal changes when reopening the venue.
“Penrith is a really diverse area and people just like food done well, and they need to have an experience that’s quality, that’s worth spending money on.”
Rescuing the place was a “no-brainer” for the owners because locals liked it so much.
“They wanted to just keep igniting the nightlife in that specific area and especially in a venue that they liked and enjoyed.”

Large hospitality groups are sometimes better placed to absorb losses and stay open in tough times, but that doesn’t mean they’re immune to the pressures hitting the industry currently, the spokesperson said.

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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