Kafe Koala adapting to life without tourists

Laurence Hennessey’s Kafe Koala has received support through the Victorian Government’s $500 million Business Support Fund to help manage challenges due to coronavirus (COVID-19).

Nestled on the picturesque Great Ocean Road, almost halfway between Lorne and Apollo Bay, is the tiny holiday town of Kennett River.

With less than 100 permanent residents, Kennett River is known for its holiday homes, caravan parks, and a roadside café called Kafe Koala, a popular visiting spot for tourists in the heart of town.

Owner Laurence Hennessy took over Kafe Koala after purchasing a home nearby and moving from Melbourne, looking for a change in scenery and career.

“Because of the Great Ocean Road and beaches, it’s a beautiful area,” Laurence said. “The incentive was that it would be a solid cash base because it was on the Great Ocean Road, so we’d get all the tourists that come through, and the visitors staying in the holiday homes and the caravan parks.”

Kafe Koala has been hit hard by restrictions put in place to slow the spread of coronavirus. Like many local businesses, they’ve  had to adapt to the absence of tourist visitors as a result of the measures.

“The business itself is a big store, there’s a big store at the front and then a room out the back where people can sit down and have dinner or lunch, I’ve basically halved the whole space and shrunk the front of the shop.”

To help the business get through the difficult period, Laurence successfully applied for the Victorian Government’s Business Support Fund..

The one-off $10,000 grant will go towards costs Kafe Koala would have otherwise struggled to cover including rent and utilities, ensuring the business can continue to operate.

“This is helping me to stay open,” Laurence said.

The Business Support Fund assistance has supplemented other changes to Laurence’s business model, helping to alter revenue streams and ensure Kafe Koala continues to tick over.

Kafe Koala has moved away from normal operation, focusing on pre-prepared meals for locals in the area. Laurence herself has moved into the kitchen every morning, preparing fresh meals which are frozen and sold throughout the day.

“Taking care of safety and making the shop feel safe for customers, we’ve made it smaller, we’ve consolidated all our stock, so it’s more of a supermarket and takeaway,” Laurence explained.

“I make soups, stocks, lasagne, curries, all those kinds of easy to prepare meals and that’s what is now selling.”

While Kafe Koala continues to face new challenges, the Business Support Fund and other changes implemented to help manage the effects of coronavirus  will mean Laurence and her team can work through the coming months, hopefully helping in the long-term.

“It’s going to be a new form of trade, but I’m looking forward to the challenge of trying to work to a new market. That’s opened up a new opportunity, so when I think about things like that, it gives me hope,” Laurence said.

The Victorian Government launched the $500 million Business Support Fund to help small businesses survive the impacts of coronavirus and keep people in work.

To find out if your business is eligible for the Business Support Fund, please visit the Business Support Fund website or call the Business Victoria hotline on 13 22 15.