What comes next? Erin Reeves from Jangling Jack’s talks life after lockdown

Erin Reeves owns Jangling Jack’s Sydney with partner John Ruttan
Story by Erin Reeves/ Photos by Christopher Pearce & Sam Bygrave

Bars have always been about shared experiences. About intimacy. Shared celebrations, commiserations and all that can happen in-between.
None of that is particularly new to any of us and we are all asking the same questions — but what does our industry look like, after COVID-19?

There are so many theories. Politicians and the AHA all have recommendations for how that will play out. For good or ill. There is endless conjecture about every possible scenario, told to us by people who do not run bars and restaurants. But how does a small business in an industry with famously slim profit margins adapt and succeed in a world we do not know?  How do we plan for an unknown set of new rules. The feeling of not knowing what environment Jangling Jack’s will reemerge in, is fast becoming something we deal with every day.
We ask ourselves so many questions. The daily roundabout. They never seem to stop.
If offices are no longer packed full of thirsty patrons then what will Friday night after work drinks look like now?
If people are struggling to pay their rent, then competing with a simple trip to ALDI for $5 Rose won’t be so easy.
If the way of working for so many Australians is changed now for the next decade, what will our venues be offering?
Is the future of this industry in the hands of the landlords?
Are takeaway cocktails really going to keep us all paying the bills?
The financial set back of what it costs to get through this will change many lives.

Jangling Jack’s was created, like all venues, with those shared experiences in mind, so as I stood and felt that rush of not knowing what could possibly come next, during that week before we closed I thought about the day we opened. This COVID19 is weirdly similar and diametrically opposite to that same time.
We will collectively share in that “reopening” day and fingers crossed it’s more than half of us. That step you take opening a venue into a future you have so many hopes for, that is the day you open the bar knowing that everything and anything can and will happen. I certainly didn’t expect a pandemic. Sorry. I didn’t have a neatly packed contingency waiting for this very moment. I didn’t have a strategy already in place for a global economic disaster of this nature. Congratulations if you did. If you had a folder marked – “in case of zero turnover for unknown length of time” – then you win. Give that motherfucker a parade.
How long can this go on? Do we prepare for weeks, months or years?  How on earth do you pay the bills with no turnover? What else could happen?
I am sure many of us all had the same sense of being whirling dervishes whilst making critical business decisions during those first few weeks. The steps weren’t clearly laid out nor was even the situation. In no particular order there were so many factors which needed to fall in line.
Staff, rent and the landlord, securing the venue, debt position, securing funds.  How much will it cost to just have the business sitting there? Is takeaway an option? The list grew with each announcement from the government and news stories from around the globe, and with each day the questions got weirder.

Jangling Jack’s pre-coronavirus

This is a weird time. No more hugs and certainly a renewed sense of gratefulness for good friends, an industry we love and good health. It’s one hell of a mess out there and an entirely unique business lesson. I’ve never spoken to our accountant so frequently nor have I been so up to date on the Retail Leases Act. I can’t  say either of those are a bad thing. We have been so lucky to know every minute detail of the business, its costs and its function since Jack’s opened.  Jon and I have spoken ad nauseam about every single aspect of the business. We dissect everything daily. Extrapolating every possible scenario to strategise and listen to each other’s thoughts. I appreciate the quality of our partnership more every single day.

The things I know for sure are how intricately interdependent we all are on each other. We all have always known this. We need as many small businesses to survive this as possible as diversity is always a key to a vibrant city and a flourishing hospitality industry. Our staff are our lifeline. Our customers are critical. From the beer brewers, to the cheesemakers. To the cleaners and delivery dudes. The list is endless. The vineyards need the bottling business to get through and they too need the backpackers to come pack and pick the fruit with gusto. They need us to drink and sell their delicious wines and not just on the couch!
We need our city to have many venues so that people keep that bar crawl happening. Neighbourhoods like ours, Kings Cross, need that vibrancy which comes from having so many great restaurants and bars all within walking distance. We need them. And they need us. It makes a petri dish of good times and sustainable industry that isn’t one dimensional. I want every little bar to be there on the other side so that we can collectively say we got through this but we all know that credit lines will close as the corporate sector shifts into where we have been since March 23rd 2020. So many companies will ask “am I relevant in this post pandemic world?”. So many job titles will dry up and all of us will be here, ready to sling booze and show them all a good time. Can we do it with surgical masks on? I am not so sure about that.  Can we all make enough money if all of our venues have their capacity reduced by two thirds? I don’t know that either. Will Sydney or the world ever look the same when it comes to entertainment and a night out? No, but we may get pretty bloody close.

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I can’t wait to hear the shaking of tins and the laughter of bar flies. I am eagerly awaiting hanging with Rach and the girls behind the bar. Jack’s will be there. A little bruised and battle hardened – but there

 

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