Redefining the CBD lunch

By Rhonda Dredge

Food courts are reporting some good customer numbers with the much-publicised return of office workers to the CBD in the third week of January.

But on the Monday the 50 per cent return of workers began, it was clear that there’d be some changes to the CBD lunch.

Regulars were still ordering up their favourite dishes at the Paramount Food Court in Bourke St.

“Today we had 50 to 60 customers,” Chandana Jayasuriya of the Ceylon Wok said. “That’s the best since the lockdown. Something is better than nothing.”

But, he said, custom was down to about 20 per cent of a normal CBD weekday.

The Paramount Food Court serves nearby government offices on Exhibition St and offers a range of cuisines.

Just two of the 10 stalls remained open during the lockdown. Ceylon Wok was one of them.

The husband-and-wife team has increased their range of dishes to 15 to attract customers, including six kinds of rice and nine curries.

Some of the trays in their bain Marie were nearly empty after their first “return to office” lunch.

“We make smaller amounts,” chef Aruni said. “But we still had to throw out food.”

Cafés and food outlets are forced to be more frugal in the new normal and to be strict on wastage, proprietors say. 

 “We never did before,” said the manager of Klik in La Trobe St, which catered for Telstra workers in the office tower above, “but we have to in order to survive. Things are tight.”

The café opens at 6am, closes at 1.30 pm and has simplified its menu to cater for nearby construction workers who want fast food such as egg and bacon rolls, pork crackling rolls, hot chips and veg or meat sandwiches.

“You have to serve your customer base,” Michael Menegazzo told CBD News. “We had 3000 people last year. About 100 have come back.” 

A return to what they do best is keeping these CBD businesses going and for those sick of the generic, over-the-top focaccias, laden down with all kinds of extras, the cleansing of the CBD palette may be a godsend.

Tsindos café in the Greek quarter in Lonsdale St had only four customers for lunch on the day of the return, proprietor Harry Tsindos said.

“November and December were brilliant,” he said. “We close the lane on Friday and Saturday nights and have live Greek music.”

He has footage of the dancing on his phone.  You can get the CBD’s “best souvlaki” from a small window off Heffernan Lane, but like a Greek village, the cafe comes alive at night.

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