Lachlan Stevens, co-owner of His Boy Elroy, has heard the words pivot and innovation more than enough over the past two years.
The terms have become a catch-cry for how individuals and businesses have responded to COVID-19 and the associated lockdowns and disruptions.
But for the Wollongong burger bar, the two words were cause for celebration on Monday night, when the business won the Pivot and Innovation Award at the 2022 Restaurant and Catering industry awards.
"For me, pivot and innovation is about challenging the status quo of how a traditional hospitality business is run and meeting the new consumer's demand," Mr Stevens said.
At the beginning of COVID, this meant shifting from in-house dining to delivery, with a drive-thru ordering system where orders were brought to customers' cars.
As the new patterns of eating in and ordering takeaway solidified, His Boy Elroy had to rethink how the business would operate.
"We realised that our customers are spread up and down the Illawarra coastline, so we decided to open a pop up store in Shellharbour," Mr Stevens said.
Not only did this enable the team to be closer to their customers so delivery times were shortened, but it enabled them to test the market outside of the Wollongong for a potential future bricks and mortar location.
While shifting to delivery and takeaway options was the norm for restaurants during 2020 and 2021, His Boy Elroy chose to avoid third party delivery platforms and instead launched an in-house delivery service.
"We were paying $10,000 a week in commissions to third party applications, which often take around 30 per cent of a total order's value," Mr Stevens said.
Instead, the business employed laid off bar staff as delivery drivers, and redirect the money that His Boy Elroy would be paying to third parties to employ more locals.
Now, although restrictions may have eased, dining patterns are not back to what they once were and customers have continued to draw on take-away options. This has meant the business has had to remain flexible, operating a food truck to serve the spread out communities of the Illawarra and continuing to hunt for a permanent second location.
Another lesson out of lockdown has been the two way relationship His Boy Elroy has developed with its customer base. Mr Stevens said that support goes both ways and that he would continue to support men's mental health initiative Barstool Brothers.
"We're not a 300 person venue but we can have a massive impact in the community," he said. "We understand that we sell burgers, beers and play sport, but that doesn't mean we can't impact the community for the better."
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