By Kirra Grimes

LOCAL hospitality leaders are standing strong through the COVID-19 crisis, demonstrating confidence in the industry’s ability to recover, by investing significant amounts of money in revamping their venues.
McCartins Hotel in Leongatha and Trulli Woodfire Pizzeria are some recent examples of established venues that have taken COVID-19 enforced closures and customer limits as an opportunity to reinvent themselves and relaunch in time for summer with a fresh new look and emphasis on outdoor dining.
Soon to reopen after a two-month closure is much-loved Meeniyan restaurant Moo’s, where founder Marty Thomas is excited to launch into a new chapter.
A fixture of the South Gippsland food scene for 11 years now, Marty’s been wanting to give his historic Whitelaw Street restaurant a facelift for some time, and with the pandemic limiting travel options during his usual winter break, he got to work redesigning every aspect – from the kitchen and menu to the branding, layout, and colour scheme.
The new menu will add plenty of takeaway-friendly options for breakfast, lunch and dinner, while retaining the venue’s emphasis on high-quality, seasonal local produce.
Complementing the upgraded kitchen will be a brand-new dog-friendly outdoor seating area with bar service, as well as footpath dining to ensure as many people as possible can enjoy the venue in a COVID-safe way.
It’s all set to be unveiled next Friday, October 16, with bookings essential.
But getting to this point hasn’t been easy, with Marty admitting the business “would have gone under” had it not been able to put six of its 12 staff on the JobKeeper scheme.
Other government grant programs had been helpful in terms of providing some much-needed cash injections, he said, but “nowhere near” covered the loss of revenue from regular trade.
Highlighting the Meeniyan community’s enthusiastic uptake of the limited takeaway options he and other local venues had offered during lockdown, Marty was confident the industry would bounce back with a bumper summer trading period as regional Victorians made the most of travel opportunities in their own backyards.
“The local community has been so supportive – it felt like people were ordering takeaway not because they necessarily
wanted to eat takeaway all the time but because they really wanted to support us; they cherished the business and didn’t want to lose it from the town,” he said.
“We hope that will be continued with the reopening because it’s been a big decision to spend so much money on the business at such a down time – we have to have faith that we’re doing the right thing and that investment will pay off in the future.”
One thing that would really help hospitality businesses as COVID-19 restrictions on indoor dining remained in place, Marty said, would be an easing of regulations around serving liquor to footpath diners – something that’s not always allowed under South Gippsland Shire Council’s planning permit system.
Council was contacted for comment.